Celebrating Great People
In the Spotlight
BY MAGGIE PADLEWSKA
Cher speaking with Darrick Thomson moments before elephant Kaavan is released into his temporary enclosure at the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary. NOV.30.2020 ©MaggiePadlewska
APRIL 21, 2020 / SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA
It was an amazing animal welfare story, one that gripped global headlines at the end of a tumultuous year...
Cher, the American entertainer and co-founder of Free The Wild, is being hailed as a great hero by most Western media outlets, because she did something commendable.
She lent her name and fame, and seized a wonderful opportunity to help with a mission to free the now world-famous Asian elephant, named Kaavan, from a life of misery at a decrepit zoo in Pakistan.
"Kids on my twitter feed, started sending this thing, and it said 'Free Kaavan' and I thought, well ok, if I don't answer they'll just stop. But they didn't." Cher told Christiane Amanpour during an interview with the CNN journalist on December 16th last year.
For more than three decades, Kaavan, was confined - and up until 2016, often shackled within his concrete enclosure at the now defunct Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad.
After long fought battle, the Islamabad High Court and government agreed with animal rights activists and Pakistani lawyers in May 2020, ruling that it was indeed high time for the Maghazar Zoo to close and to relocate its captive animals, including Kaavan.
After months preparations led by the animal rescue organization FOUR PAWS - that tragic chapter of Kaavan's life story, was finally and officially over.
Transported in Russian cargo plane, Kaavan landed on the runway of the temporarily closed Siem Reap International Airport in Cambodia, mid-afternoon on November 30th, 2020.
It was indeed a remarkable moment, a huge logistical accomplishment, a great collaborative achievement, that resulted in a wonderful feel-good news story that triggered a media frenzy at the end of a tumultuous year.
"You rescued and re-homed an elephant..." said Amanpour during that December interview. Without hesitation, Cher promptly replies: "Yes."
Now allow me, if you will, to fill you in on a lesser-published side of this story.
Marion Lombard and Dr. Frank Göritz of FOUR PAWS, speak with Cher shortly after the arrival of Kaavan (safely in his crate - backround) at the Siem Reap International Airport on Novemeber 30th, 2020. ©Maggie Padlewska
Buddhist Monks bless Kaavan (in crate) on the tarmac of thee Siem Reap International Airport. ©Maggie Padlewska
Samar Khan / 2015. (Photo supplied by Dr. Samar Khan)
student at the time, named Samar Khan.
"I started a petition after seeing Kaavan in chains in 2015, that set off the 'Free Kaavan' campaign, and I used the fanbase of Kaavan to start a social media campaign on his behalf" Dr. Khan tells me via video.
Within a few weeks, Dr. Khan's "Help Free Kaavan The Elephant From 28 Years of Solitary Confinement" petition gained thousands of signatures, and in 2020 reached it's goal - declaring a victory with a final tally of 400,746 supporters.
"I learned a lot about patience, persistence...and I learned a lot about empathy, especially from the Pakistani people. They are some of the most compassionate people you'll ever meet. Actually the voices that have been the loudest for Kaavan, have been Pakistani...because they did fight really, really hard, and this wouldn't have happened without them" she said.
"Free Kaavan" protest in in Lahore, Pakistan. (Photo supplied by Dr. Samar Khan)
Dr. Khan's "Free Kaavan" campaign was huge, inspiring countless people to fight for the release of this magnificent sentient being.
"We had a lot of volunteers on the ground who worked really tirelessly. Like Faryal Gauhart who got the issue through senate. Wwe had Mohebullah who was actually a schoolboy who would go in the mornings before class and help Kaavan and visit him, we had his amazing legal team Anees Jilani and also Owais Awan who actually got everything done and got the through to fruition and got him freed in the end" said Dr. Khan.
The struggle to free Kaavan was a tireless six year effort, by countless people, including those who took to the streets and protested around the globe.
"I think it was like 11 countries...people went to their Pakistani embassies and protested for Kaavan, I think that when I realized that this was a really bid deal, and that actually got him unshackled. So I think it was January of 2016 that we finally got the chains off."
Perhaps it's time, therefore, to ask ourselves:
Did the world's most respected media outlets do those amazing people justice?
I do not mean to diminish Cher's contributions, involvement in the campaign to free Kavaan, or the fact that people with star-power and fame such as hers, are indeed great promoters of important causes.
But, in this case, I do question all that follows.