Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters
Incredible sight of the elephant that cried: Raju was held in chains, beaten and
abused for fifty years and on the day he was released tears rolled down his face
These incredible pictures show the moment an elephant who was held in chains and beaten and abused for fifty years cried as he was released to freedom.
Raju the elephant was left bleeding from spiked shackles and living on hand-outs from passing tourists after he was captured and tied up by his ‘owner’. But, after 50 years of torture, the animal cried tears of relief after he was rescued by a wildlife charity in a daring midnight operation – fittingly on American Independence Day.
North London-based charity Wildlife SOS stepped in to save Raju from dying in his bonds after learning of his plight in India. Every day, the majestic animal was forced to hold out his trunk and beg for a few coins from passers-by – surviving only on plastic and paper for food.
However, last week, a 10-strong team of vets and wildlife experts from the charity were joined by 20 forestry department officers and six policemen to seize Raju from his suffering in the Uttar Pradesh area of India. The mission took place under the cover of darkness, as fewer people would be around for the dangerous rescue and the animal could be protected from the searing heat of the sun.
Pooja Binepal, the charity’s UK spokesman, described the rescue as ‘incredibly emotional’ for the team. She said: ‘Raju has spent the past 50 years living a pitiful existence in chains 24 hours a day, an act of intolerable cruelty.
‘The team were 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 realised 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 – it's a truly pitiful case. ‘But today he knows what freedom is and he will learn what kindness feels like and what it's like to not suffer any more.’
The daring rescue came exactly a year to the day since the charity was alerted to Raju's plight by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department in India. A confiscation process went through the courts as Raju's owner did not have any legal documents for his possession meaning the charity could rescue him from suffering.
It is not known exactly how Raju came into his plight, as little is known about his early years, but the charity believes he was poached from his mother as a young calf. Ms Binepal said: ‘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.
‘The calves are then tied and beaten until they submit to their owners – their spirits are effectively broken.
‘We discovered Raju's case was particularly tragic. ‘He'd been poached as a calf and then he has been sold on and sold on. Incredibly we believe he has had up to 27 owners – he's been treated as a commodity every two years of his life.
‘By the time we found him in July 2013 he was in a pathetic condition. He had no shelter at night, and was being used as a prop to beg from dawn until dusk from tourists visiting the sites of India. ‘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.’
Once the court order was finally issued, a team led by Wildlife SOS founder Kartick Satyanarayan carried out two days of surveillance before launching the rescue. Mr Satyanarayan said: ‘As we watched we quickly realised we had to act as quickly as possible as his situation was so desperate and the cruelty so extreme so we decided to move the rescue forward by a day.
‘The chains around his 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. ‘His cruel handler even tore out the hair from his tail to sell as good luck charms. The exploitation and abuse just had to stop.’
However, even on Thursday evening as the mercy mission began, Raju's owner tried to prevent his rescue. Mr Satyanarayan said: ‘He began to shout commands to terrify Raju – and try to provoke him. ‘It created an incredibly dangerous situation as a bull elephant could snap a human like a tooth pick if he becomes afraid or angry.
‘When that failed he then put a series of chains around his legs in an attempt to prevent us removing him – so viciously tight that were cutting into his legs.
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.
‘But we stood our ground and refused to back down – and as we did so, tears began to roll down Raju's face. Some no doubt were due to the pain being inflicted by the chains, but he also seemed to sense that change was coming. It was as if he felt hope for the first time in a very long time.
‘We knew it was now or never so we made the drastic decision to move his transportation truck closer and then walk him 200 yards. ‘Every step would have been agony, but we had to take him, or he could have vanished forever. We decided we'd remove the shackles once we'd got him to safety.’ Incredibly, Raju calmly complied, despite every step causing searing agony. ‘It was as if he knew we wanted to help him,’ Mr Satyanarayan said.
Once he was loaded, and given additional sedation, a convoy then escorted the five-and-a-half tonne elephant, 350 miles on the back of an open-top lorry to the charity's Elephant Conservation and Care Centre at Mathura. ‘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,’ Mr Satyanarayan said.
‘The other elephants in the sanctuary awoke from their sleep as we pulled in and came to have a look – it was an extraordinary moment.’ Raju was then fed bananas, banana leaves, mango and bread and biscuits and given water before the charity's head wildlife vet Dr Yaduraj Khadpekar began the painstaking process of removing his shackles.
Mr Satyanarayan said: ‘It took him and two handlers 45 minutes to liberate him as they'd been wound round his legs to prevent their removal and to cause pain if anyone tried to take them off. ‘We all had tears in our eyes as the last rope which held the final spike was cut and Raju took his first steps of freedom.
‘The entire team were exhausted, but incredibly elated as he has suffered such unthinkable abuse and trauma for so, so long. He'd been beaten so badly, his spirit is broken.'
Over the weekend, Raju received emergency medical attention to his wounds as well as a proper bath and food. ‘It will be a long rehabilitation process, but we will teach him that humans don't mean pain and brutality, but it's going to take time,’ Mr Satyanarayan said.
‘When he is ready he will initially join two companion elephants called Rajesh and Bhola, who once also suffered unthinkable cruelty. ‘They've both been rehabilitated and once he settles he will learn how to live again by following their example, before he joins the rest of the elephants – including five flirtatious females to live out his days.
‘But for the moment he's tasting freedom for the first time in his life and he'll spend the rest of his life in a safe compound living out his days in dignity, free from suffering and pain.’ The charity has now launched a campaign to raise £10,000 to help Raju begin the start of his new life in a new enclosure which will allow him to roam with his adoptive family.