The Starfish Story Inspires the Famous Rescue of Kaavan the Loneliest Elephant

Kaavan the elephant, once known as "The Loneliest Elephant in the world"

David B. Casselman, Founder and CEO of Ecoflix, shares his unique experience in helping to save Kaavan the loneliest elephant, inspired by the apocryphal Starfish Story.

So often, we ask ourselves: “How can I make a difference?” Problems seem so daunting, leaving us feeling helpless. But there is an answer. We can and must make a difference, one starfish at a time. What do I mean by that? It is a reference to the Starfish Story about a little boy on a beach at low tide.

Starfish are drying on the sand and the rocks. The boy is gently throwing starfish into the water when a man come up. He asks, “What are you doing son?” In response, the little boy says, “I’m saving starfish. See? They are drying up on the sand and rocks.” The old man says, “You can’t make a difference. Look down the beach. There are millions of them.” Ignoring him completely, the little boy gently tosses another starfish in the water. Then, he turns back with a smile and says, “It made a difference to that one!”

What can we learn from the Starfish Story?

This is not just a cute story. It summarizes a problem we face every day.

Are we doing enough? Are we focused on the right problem… or the right solution? Can we really make a difference?

The answer is always the same.

We can make a difference! Like the boy in the starfish story, just focus on saving one starfish at a time.

You cannot do everything at once. And nobody can cure all of the problems in the world, and certainly not by themselves. Just do what you can, including enlisting help where possible. Then, keep up the good fight, day after day…starfish after starfish. You can do much more than you think!

Kaavan, the loneliest elephant in the world

Close up of Kaavan the elephant and his gentle eyes

A real-world example of this lesson in my life involved a common problem.

I learned about an elephant, suffering in a zoo. But, unlike the local elephants I tried, and failed, to help, this elephant was in an even more difficult situation. He was kept in deplorable conditions, thousands of miles away from me in Los Angeles, located in Pakistan.

Fighting my natural instinct to conclude I was powerless to do anything of value, I did my best to stay calm. I asked questions and learned more about the problem. What I learned revealed some opportunities. With effort, I learned that the situation was not completely hopeless after all. There were some glimmers of hope… and they filled me with excitement.

But, like all problems, it was necessary to take one step at a time, just like the boy in the starfish story. And proceeding that way, we did our best to exhaust all of the available options. In this case, there were many people around the world trying to help this long-suffering bull elephant, whose name is Kaavan. Bull elephants in particular have extreme difficulty in captivity. And few, if any, facilities are willing to take them because they are so strong and dangerous.

Nonetheless, we began to meet online and explore what strengths and opportunities we had to truly make a difference in his life. It turned out that we had more strength and skills than any of us thought. The legal began to exert a serious local legal challenge. We had world class veterinarians willing to help support our efforts. And, in addition to support from around the world, I was able to develop the possibility of creating a space for Kaavan at the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary, which I had co-founded some twenty years earlier.

Cher and the loneliest elephant

Kaavan rescued with the help of Cher

In addition, we were blessed to receive a massive injection of energy and power from the support of the global superstar Cher, who offered to go to Pakistan to make his freedom possible. Together with her nonprofit, several other nonprofits, legal help in Pakistan, the decision of the Pakistan Supreme Court, and permission from the governing bodies in Cambodia, we finally secured both permission and the funds to take Kaavan out of Pakistan and into the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary.

But, even then, we faced a series of next-level challenges.

They included the rigors of training and transporting Kaavan, which required an appropriate jet airplane to transport him. This included the considerable difficulty of funding those expenses, as well as the cost of building a quarantine pen, plus an independent thirty-acre jungle pen for Kaavan at Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary, complete with his own massive swimming pool.

Like most considerable challenges, we met each obstacle head on, one at a time… one starfish at a time.

And slowly, much too slowly to satisfy any of us, we gradually overcame each obstacle. And with all of the pieces of the puzzle in place, we actually pulled off a miracle, managing to safely transport Kaavan to his forever home, in one of the few remaining lush forests of Cambodia.

Kaavan the elephant, an update

To this day, he lives in peace, no longer exhibiting stressful stereotypical behaviors. Never again need he live in the horrific confinement of a zoo, in a tiny space, on hard ground, surrounded by noisy visitors.

The moral of this story?

No matter how difficult it may seem, most problems can be overcome with enough passion, effort and support. Each takes time, creativity, massive amounts of effort… and often a lot of money.

Indeed, each problem, no matter how large or small, is its own starfish.

So don’t believe anyone who says that you we can’t make a difference. If you believe you can, every one of us has the power to change the world, one starfish at a time.