0415 GMT January 24, 2021
The mammoth task of getting him into an elephant-sized metal box for transport took several hours, and was perhaps the most crucial step in rescuing him from the dire conditions he's lived in for 35 years, according to AP.
Had Kaavan been spooked and refused to enter the cage or bolted, his departure could have been delayed for months while the rescue team sought to restore calm and trust before trying again, explained Martin Bauer, a spokesman for Four Paws International. The global animal welfare group has led the charge to save Kaavan since 2016.
Dr. Amir Khalil, a veterinarian with Four Paws who's been treating Kaavan's many wounds and ailments over the past three months, said he was hopeful about the next chapter of the elephant's life.
"In the sanctuary in Cambodia ... waiting for him is three ladies, three Asian female elephants," he said. "Now Kaavan might have a new partner, and share a new life with a partner.”
Khalil described how on Sunday he slowly and gently cajoled Kaavan to walk backwards into a steel crate, as nearly a dozen men carefully guided him inside using chains around his tree-trunk sized legs.
Kaavan was set to leave aboard a Russian cargo plane for the 25,000-acre sanctuary early on Monday morning.
The plight of the male Asian elephant, who's been alone since the death of his partner Saheli in 2012, has captured worldwide attention.
Kaavan was diagnosed earlier this year as being dangerously overweight, owing to his unsuitable diet of around 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of sugar cane each day.
With Khalil's help, Kaavan lost 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) over the past three months, and was down to a slimmer, more agile 9,000 pounds (over 4,000 kilograms) when he left the zoo on Sunday.
Kaavan’s wounds are emotional as well as physical. He would spend his days throwing his head from side to side, a stereotypical sign of boredom and misery in an elephant, Bauer said, and something the Four Paws team has been working to treat.
The loss of his mate Saheli in 2012 took a toll on Kaavan's mental health. Elephants are social animals that thrive on the company of other elephants, Bauer explained. For Kaavan, the last eight years have been akin to living in quarantine — something the world has come to understand all too well amid the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
“I always compare it to us humans now during the pandemic. We are locked away for 14 days isolated and we all know how that feels," Bauer said.