The US pop star Cher met Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, on Friday before the relocation of an elephant from Islamabad’s dilapidated zoo to a Cambodian sanctuary.

The singer, who has for years campaigned for Kaavan the elephant and is helping pay for his move, arrived in the Pakistan capital this week to see the animal before the flight to Cambodia on Sunday.

“Appreciating her efforts in retiring Kaavan to an elephant sanctuary, the prime minister thanked Cher for her campaign and role in this regard,” a statement from Khan’s office read.

Cher tweeted that she thanked Khan “for making it possible for me to take Kaavan to Cambodia”.

The plight of Kaavan – an overweight, 35-year-old bull elephant – has drawn international condemnation and highlighted the woeful state of Islamabad’s zoo, where conditions are so bad that a judge in May ordered all the animals to be moved.

A team of vets and experts from Four Paws, an Austria-based animal welfare group, has spent months working with Kaavan to get him ready for the journey to Cambodia.

Experts have trained Kaavan to enter a large metal crate that will be used to transport the animal to the airport.

Volunteers working with Kaavan say he responds well to music and singing, and Cher is expected to belt out a song or two for the elephant before he departs Islamabad.

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