This is the moment the world’s loneliest elephant had his first contact with a member of his own species in eight years after being rescued from a dilapidated zoo.
Kaavan, a Sri Lankan elephant who spent three decades in captivity in Islamabad, made his new friend after being flown to a sanctuary in Cambodia last month.
Touching video shows the moment the two elephants came face-to-face, reaching their trunks through the bars of their enclosures in greeting.
More video showed Kaavan enjoying his spacious new enclosure, including playing on a tyre swing and dousing himself in dirt – which elephants do to protect their skin from heat and insect bites.
Kaavan was born in Sri Lanka but given as a gift by the country to Pakistan in 1985 to cement a growing closeness between the two nations.
Kept in isolation, Kaavan was joined by another elephant named Saheli who was brought from Bangladesh and joined him in 1990.
She remained his companion until 2012, when she died, leaving Kaavan alone.
In 2016, campaigners began calling for Kaavan to be freed after it emerged he was spending much of his time in chains due to poor conditions at the zoo.
A judge ruled in May that Kaavan should be relocated from Islamabad to a facility that had better ability to care for him.
In October it was announced that Kaavan would be taken to Cambodia, and in November crews began the arduous process of transporting him there.
A farewell party was held for the elephant in Islamabad, including an appearance by musician Cher who led the campaign to free him.
He arrived in Cambodia on Monday to much fanfare, and where Cher was again waiting for him.
Tuesday saw Kaavan settling into his enclosure at Kulen Prom Tep Wildlife Sanctuary, where he was seen touching trunks with another elephant, captured in images provided by rights group Four Paws.
‘First contact with an elephant in eight years – this is a huge moment for Kaavan,’ said Martin Bauer, a spokesman with the Austria-based group that worked for months to get him ready for the flight.
‘Kaavan will finally have the chance to live a species-appropriate and peaceful life,’ Bauer said, adding that the entire team was extremely moved to witness the interaction.
‘He has a very bright future ahead of him.’
Once Kaavan has adjusted to a ‘controlled setting’, he will be released into the wider sanctuary, where there are three female elephants, an environment ministry official said on Monday.
The plan is to breed Kaavan with local elephants to ‘conserve the genetic fold’.
Transporting an adult elephant by plane is no small task, and has only been undertaken a handful of times.
Helpers packed his trunk with 200 kilograms (450 pounds) of food to snack on during the seven-hour flight aboard a jumbo Russian cargo plane.
A tube system was installed in his transport crate to handle up to 200 litres (58 gallons) of urine.
Activists have accused the zoo in Islamabad of chaining Kaavan up, and of not properly sheltering him during the searing summers there.
Conditions were so bad that in May, a judge ruled that all the zoo’s animals should be relocated