The story of Raju , the freed elephant who weeped tears of happiness, is equal parts disturbing and yet profoundly joyful. Raju, poached from India as just a calf, spent his entire life shackled and beaten. For 50 years, the five and a half ton animal wore spiked chains that dug into his legs. He’s survived as many forlorn humans do – living day to day and dependent on the handouts of passersby. They say elephants never forget, and as much as this beautiful animal will remember his life of unspeakable cruelty, he also will undoubtedly remember the day he was freed.
Reports the Huffington Post: “Wildlife SOS, a group established in 1995 to protect endangered wildlife in India, set out to rescue Raju on the night of July 2. Raju is around 50 years old and was likely captured as a baby and bought and sold many times over the course of his life. He was forced to work as a begging elephant in Allahabad. His legs were bound in spiked chains that made walking difficult and left him with chronic wounds.”
The North London-based charity Wildlife SOS said Raju was made to beg for food – and even then he was oftentimes fed inedibles like plastic and paper. Tourists would toss coins in his enclosure, which were promptly scooped up by Raju’s owners, who had kept Raju penned up in the Uttar Pradesh area of India. Raju’s current handlers had no legal papers proving they purchased him, making his rescue legally permissible. The pachyderm is believed to have had up to 30 different owners in his lifetime.
A team of nearly 40 men and women last week rescued Raju – 10 veterinarians were joined by 20 forestry officials from the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department in India (the organization that alerted the charity about Raju) and six police officers – who rescued the despondent elephant during a nighttime raid.
Wildlife SOS spokesperson Pooja Binepal said the rescue brought tears to the eyes of both Raju and those on the team.
“Raju has spent the past 50 years living a pitiful existence in chains 24 hours a day, an act of intolerable cruelty,” Binepal said.
Wildlife SOS founder Kartick Satyanarayan said the chains around his Raju’s legs “had spikes which were cutting into his flesh, and each time he moved puss would ooze out of wounds. Pain and brutality were all he knew.”
But no longer.
Summarizes Satyanarayan: “The team was astounded to see tears roll down his face during the rescue. It was so incredibly emotional for all of us. We knew in our hearts he realized he was being freed. Elephants are not only majestic, but they are highly intelligent animals, who have been proven to have feelings of grief, so we can only imagine what torture half a century has been like for him. Until we stepped in he’d never known what it is like to walk free of his shackles and it’s a truly pitiful case.”
Binepal spoke about the rampant elephant slave trade in India.
“The poachers either slaughter the mother, or they drive the herd into traps that are small enough only for the babies to fall into. The mother cries for her baby for days after he’s been stolen – it is a sickening trade,” Binepal said. “The calves are then tied and beaten until they submit to their owners and their spirits are effectively broken.”
Binepal further spoke of Raju’s meager existence.
“He hasn’t been fed properly and tourists started giving him sweet food items and because he was in a state of hunger and exhaustion he began eating plastic and paper. His nails are severely overgrown, he has abscesses and wounds because of the shackles and continually walking on a tarmac road has led to his foot pad overgrowing,” Binepal said.
Raju’s rescue came on the Fourth of July, a date the team felt was fitting.
“Incredibly he stepped out of his truck and took his first step to freedom at one minute past midnight on July 4th, which felt so extraordinarily fitting,” Satyanarayan said. “The other elephants in the sanctuary awoke from their sleep as we pulled in and came to have a look and it was an extraordinary moment.”
Wildlife SOS is now hoping to raise approximately $12,500 to help Raju begin his new life. For more on Raju’s incredible rescue and for information on donations, head over to "Raju’s Journey" at WildlifeSOS.org.