Cher said the power of social media led her on a quest to save the “world’s loneliest elephant”.
The superstar singer and actress spearheaded a global campaign to free Kaavan, a four-ton, malnourished Asian elephant who had spent nearly 20 years chained up in Pakistan.
The creature was prodded to beg for tips while living in a cramped, dilapidated shed under the punishing Islamabad sun.
Kaavan’s living conditions led to dire health problems, including obesity, before his only mate died of neglect.
His plight led to a social media campaign that caught Cher’s attention and she eventually helped earn Kaavan his freedom.
The story features in documentary Cher & The Loneliest Elephant, which will air on the Smithsonian Channel in the UK.
Cher, a prolific Twitter user with almost four million followers, said her fans’ persistence convinced her to help Kaavan.
She told the PA news agency: “I never actually intended to, I just got swept up in it because the kids on my site, on my Twitter feed, started sending me these pictures and it was all ‘free Kaavan, free Kaavan’.
“And I looked at the pictures and they were terrible but I thought, ‘I can’t do anything’, so I didn’t answer them and thought eventually they’ll just stop. But they didn’t and so I started to get involved.”
Cher, a chart-topping singer and Oscar-winning actress, co-founded Free The Wild with partners Mark Cowne, Gina Nelthorpe Cowne and Jennifer Ruiz.
She recorded the song Walls to boost the movement. Her efforts paid off in May 2020 when a court in Pakistan ordered Kaavan be freed.
Working with the international rescue organisation Four Paws and vet Dr Amir Khalil, the team found Kaavan a home in a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia.
In November 2020, Cher, 74, flew halfway around the world to secure the elephant’s rescue, which is captured in Cher & The Loneliest Elephant.
On using her celebrity for good, Cher said: “It’s not the first time I’ve actually done something like this but it’s all been done with human beings.
“So it is really hard, because people now send me pictures and videos all the time, it’s really hard and Free The Wild, we’re working on a bunch of animals right now, but you don’t get them quickly.
“So you have to start on all of them at one time and hope that you’ll be able to talk people into letting them go to a sanctuary.”
Cher & The Loneliest Elephant premieres on April 22 on the Paramount+ streaming service in the US and the Smithsonian Channel in the UK at 8pm.