US singer Cher champions release of Kavan, Sri Lanka’s ‘lonely elephant’ from a Pakistani zoo


Kavan, the elephant has been in Murghazar Zoo, Islamabad, Pakistan since 1987 when he was gifted by President J R Jayawardena to Pakistan’s President Gen. Zia-ur Haq. Just 1 years old he was taken from his mother and given as a State gift to another country. Sri Lanka’s leaders did not think to seek permission from Kavan’s mother. What mother would like to have her precious child taken away and sent across the seas, never to be seen again? It was a morally wrong Presidential decision sans compassion. Were there no better gifts to give in exchange for diplomatic pleasantries?


Kavan lost his companion Saheli who arrived from Bangladesh in 1990 and died in 2012. Kavan had no companion since and loneliness was affecting him badly. He soon came to be known as Pakistan’s lonely elephant. It was in 2016 that American singer Cher heard about Kavan.

She inquired about him from Zoo officials in Pakistan. She petitioned for his freedom and she kept the struggle to free Kavan.  Good news arrives 4 years later.


A Pakistani court in Islamabad has given Kavan his freedom after 33 years cooped up in a zoo.

Kavan is to be a slave no more and Cher has played a major role to secure his freedom. Where does Kavan go to now is the question we all want answered. Kavan can no longer be put into a zoo. He must be allowed to move with fellow elephants in his home Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka’s officials and animal rights groups must ensure Kavan finally enjoys his freedom.


Singer Cher must be applauded for campaigning for 4 years to secure his release having felt saddened by photos of the elephant living alone and held in chains. Naturally Cher is jubilant. She had broken into tears hearing the news.


Even humans came to value freedom during lockdown with covid-19. Animals began to enjoy freedom as a result of humans being under lockdown. These lessons cannot be ignored. How humans felt imprisoned inside their homes is the life animals suffer inside zoos.  Animals too have feelings just like humans and the only thing setting animals and humans apart is our ability to speak.  Arahant Mahinda declared to King Devanampiyatissa some 2300years ago:

“Oh! Great King, the birds of the air and the beasts have an equal right to live and move about in any part of this land as thou.

The land belongs to the peoples and all other beings and thou art only the guardian of it”

(those who have not heard Cher — here’s some of her most memorable songs)


The freedom brought to Kavan will bring much merit to Cher and we hope Cher will continue to look into Kavan and his new found freedom as he returns to Sri Lanka after 33 years to restart life again not even sure if his mother or siblings are alive to welcome him. Never separate a mother from her child without asking and obtaining permission – it’s one of the cruelest deeds anyone can do.





Shenali D Waduge

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