Raju, an aged elephant is estimated to have been sold at least 27 times, moving from owner to owner. After 50 years of living in humiliation, misery and starvation, he was finally freed in an incredible rescue operation!
The poor giant was found bleeding from spiked shackles and living on hand-outs from passing tourists, survived eating plastic and paper. But the animal cried tears of relief and joy after he was finally rescued by a wildlife charity, SOS Wildlife, in a daring midnight operation that significantly coincided with the American Independence Day.
Raju was believed to have been captured as a baby and kept held in chains, beaten and abused for fifty long years, changing hands 27 times during his life, each owner extracting the maximum out of this poor, mute and timid giant. He was starved, abused and kept tied up with spiked chains that bore into his flesh. Everyday, the majestic animal was forced to beg for coins and food from tourists.
When North London-based charity Wildlife SOS heard of his plight, they stepped in to save him. In July 2014, the operation was finally launched by a 10-strong team of vets and wildlife experts from the charity; they were additionally joined by 20 forestry department officers and six policemen. The operation was conducted under the cover of darkness, when few people would get in the way. It would also protect the animal from the heat of the sun.
Raju, the elephant, was seen crying when the team was working hard to rescue him safely!
“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 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 – 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.”
Little is known about Raju’s early life, but the charity believes he was poached from his mother as a young calf. The charity was alerted about Raju’s plight by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department in India. It took an entire year before Raju could be freed. Since Raju’s owner did not have supporting legal documents for his possession, it became possible for the charity to go ahead and rescue him from his plight.
“As we watched we quickly realized 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,” Satyanarayan said.
“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 the fateful evening when the mercy mission began, Raju’s owner tried to prevent his rescue.
“He began to shout commands to terrify Raju – and try to provoke him,” Satyanarayan said. “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.”
“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.”
Wildlife SOS vet Dr Yaduraj Khadpekar cutting the shackles off Raju.
“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,” 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 4, 2014, 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 – it was an extraordinary moment.”
Raju was shifted to Mathura Conservation and Care Center in India.
“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,” Mr Satyanarayan.
“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.”
Dedicated Forest officers and some policemen accompanied SOS wildlife team to save Raju.
“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.”
“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.”
Raju being pampered. The vet gently rubs his forehead coaxing him to relax and sleep.
Raju in his new home, enjoying a cool shower.
Raju being introduced to a female elephant Phoolkali and they both shared food.
Raju, now free to express his feelings, and getting a taste of freedom.
Happy Raju, enjoying his time in his favorite pool!
Raju enjoying his cake celebrating the anniversary of his majestic rescue at the Elephant Conservation and Care Center
The real hero indeed!