KAAVAN, once named “the world’s loneliest elephant”, still struggles to build relationships with cows in Cambodia’s Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, despite having been there for nearly three years, according to Sok Hong, president of the NGO Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary (WCS) Cambodia.

“Kaavan shows a sense of loyalty to his past partners. He has displayed signs of friendliness to two local female elephants; however, his full integration into their herd remains elusive,” said Hong.

Kaavan, formerly housed in Islamabad Zoo, formerly Marghazar, in Pakistan, was relocated to Cambodia’s lush forests in November 2020.

The CWS team diligently observes Kaavan’s social interactions, trying to discern if he might be open to a new partnership. However, Hong emphasised that their priority is not to promote breeding, but to rescue elephants and provide them with a sanctuary that offers a life free from fear or danger.

“We focus on allowing these magnificent creatures to experience the joy of a natural existence,” he said.

Elephants, like humans, are believed to be emotional beings, capable of grieving over the loss of their companions, as per experts from Four Paws International.

Amir Khalil of Four Paws related the traumatic experiences of Kaavan, who endured a considerable period of mourning following the loss of his partner, Saheli, who died of a heart attack in 2012.

“Kaavan has spent close to three years rediscovering his natural instincts and acquainting himself with his new environment and elephant companions. At 38, Kaavan is finally experiencing the life he deserves,” Khalil said.

Chem Mao, director of the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, attests that under the CWS’ supervision, Kaavan is adapting well to his natural surroundings and even displaying a keen sense of humour.

“According to a Thai mahout caring for him, Kaavan has shown some signs indicating breeding interest,” he said.

Although Kaavan remains hesitant to fully integrate into the natural elephant herd, wildlife professionals are hopeful that continued interaction will foster his acceptance. Once Kaavan adjusts, he will be released to roam freely within the 4,350ha sanctuary.

Tragedy struck in the first year of Kaavan’s arrival when one of the three local cows, brought to keep him company, sadly died of old age.

According to a research report by the Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with Fauna & Flora International (FFI), current estimates indicate there are between 400-600 Asian elephants within Cambodia’s protected regions in the Cardamom Mountains and in the northeast provinces of Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri.

A 10-year conservation plan for these majestic creatures, put forth by the government, is projected to cost approximately $40.5 million.