This Elephant Rescue Story Will Make You Cry Tears of Joy
Raju, the Elephant Rescue. Kept in barbed shackles and given little food, Raju’s 50 years on earth had been filled with pain and loneliness. For this Asian elephant, there seemed to be little chance for a better future. He had spent his sad life on the streets of India begging for coins from tourists and occasionally being rented out for use in Indian weddings. His life was allegedly filled with beatings, and his diet consisted mainly of paper and other trash.
There are few creatures more magnificent than elephants in the wild. And there are few creatures more miserable than an elephant in shackles, forced to live a life of misery, away from its own kind. Elephants are extremely intelligent. They, in fact, have the largest brain of any land mammal. And they are also very social creatures who will mourn when one of their herd is killed or dies. They are also one of the few non-human creatures to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. So knowing how intelligent and sensitive elephants are makes Raju’s story even more horrifying.
There is some speculation as to how Raju ended up on the streets of the Uttar Pradesh region of India. It is believed that he may have been poached from the wild as a calf. If so, it is likely that the poachers either killed his mom or drove his herd into a trap small enough to separate him from his mother. Once in the hands of humans, Raju the elephant would have been chained and beaten into submission.
Raju’s story is — sadly enough — not uncommon. According to Wildlife SOS, a North London-based organization that helped the elephant rescue operation to save Raju, there are approximately 3,500 captive elephants being forced to work the crowded streets of India. Many are beaten or otherwise abused, and they must endure hours walking along the hot roads, breathing in the polluted area and dodging traffic. Raju’s feet were, in fact, in terrible condition.
Wildlife SOS also learned that Raju may have had as many as 27 owners in his lifetime, which meant he changed hands approximately every two years. More than likely, his owners never formed any type of bond with him and only saw him as a commodity. His last owners even tore the hair from his tail to sell as good luck charms.
Luckily for Raju, there were kind people in this world who learned of his plight and decided that he needed to be rescued from his misery. So in 2014, Kartick Satyanarayan and his team from Wildlife SOS obtained the paperwork necessary to free the abused elephant. And on July 2, the Wildlife SOS team as well as 20 forestry department officers and 6 policemen used the cover of night to pull off a daring rescue mission.
It was not an easy mission. In fact, it took nearly eight hours to save Raju. One of the things they had to do in order to free the elephant was to remove the barbed shackles from around his legs.
The spikes in the shackles had cut into his legs and, according to Satyanarayan, every time Raju moved, “Puss would ooze out of wounds.” Because they didn’t want to cause the poor elephant anymore pain than they had to, the team tried to be extremely careful while removing the chains that were wrapped very, very tightly around his legs.
As his rescuers worked to free him, they were astounded to see what looked like tears “gushing” from the Raju’s eyes. If you look closely at this picture, you can see the wet marks flowing from his eyes.
Do elephants shed tears? There have been numerous reports of elephants shedding tears during stressful or emotional circumstances. For instance, in 2015, this baby elephant in China was seen crying tears for hours after being rejected by his mother. Other times, there are cases of people who say that the elephant weeps after rescue And elephants are known to be complex, intelligent animals that will grieve for lost loved ones. So it is possible that Raju understood that his rescuers were there to free him from his life of abuse.
Raju’s owners tried to stop the rescue attempt by shouting commands at the elephant and by trying to add more chains to his legs. But, eventually, the rescuers were able to free Raju and load him on a truck so that they could drive him to freedom.
His next stop? The Elephant Conservation and Care Centre in Mathura, which is located in northern India. For Americans, the date he arrived at the sanctuary was particularly significant — July 4th, a day for celebrating freedom.
Upon his arrival at his new home, he was allowed to do something that he may not have experienced since he was a baby living in the wild. He was allowed to walk free of any chains or shackles on his legs. His new caretakers also treated Raju’s numerous wounds. According to Satyanarayan, “His legs were so covered in abscesses and his feet so damaged by walking on hard tarmac roads that we have spent much more than expected in his medical treatment. And we still have a long way to go as he has a serious limp and open wounds.”
Raju the elephant weeps after rescue. He was also very emaciated when he first arrived at the sanctuary. Years of living on very little food and eating trash had taken its toll on the elephant.
For the first time in a long time, possibly even his whole life, Raju the happy rescued elephant was finally given enough to eat.
Sadly for Raju, his former owners were fighting to get him back. According to the Daily Mail, they claimed that the animal was their rightful property and they wanted him back. But the Wildlife SOS’s legal team fought “tooth and nail” for Raju’s freedom. And because Raju had become an Internet sensation, a petition was created for him on Change.org that was signed by more than 450,000 supporters. His rescuers and fans were fearful that despite their best efforts, Raju could still end up back in shackles, back in pain.
As Satyanarayan told the Daily Mail, “We were determined to fight for him to ensure he could live out his days free from beatings and harm, and we’ve had many a sleepless night worrying about what the future held for him.” The last thing anyone wanted was to see this magnificent elephant back in chains again.
During a series of hearings, the lawyers for Wildlife SOS argued that under Indian law, an elephant could not be owned by a person. And that all elephants are actually owned by the Indian government. They also argued that if someone wants to claim an ownership of an elephant, they would need a license issued from the Chief Wildlife Warden, which — not surprisingly — the former owners could not provide.
Finally, an Indian court determined the fate of Raju the rescued elephant. And it was the one that the world had hoped for — Raju would stay with Wildlife SOS and not be returned to the people who had caused him so much pain.
Raju was finally free to learn how to become part of a herd. But Satyanarayan worried that this process might be difficult for Raju, telling the Daily Mail that the elephant had “been so terribly brutalized for 50 years that we feared he’d be unable to live with his own kind. He didn’t even know how to be an elephant.”
When the sanctuary initially released him with their other elephants, they put him in with three females, Laxmi, Chanchal and Sai Geeta. At first Raju was a bit hesitant to meet them. But the girls ran up to him, flapping their ears excitedly and trumpeting happily.
“Then each of them touched him with their trunks, clearly reassuring him before they wandered off into the grazing land at our Elephant Conservation and Care Centre at Mathura. It was incredibly touching after all he’d been through,” said Satyanarayan.
Raju the elephant also discovered other delights. He loves, for example, cavorting in the center’s pool. Sometimes, he plays in the water alone.
And other times, he likes to play in the water with his new family.
He even got to participate in celebrations. He got a cake for his birthday.
And Raju also got to celebrate Christmas with his caretakers. His special present? A bucket of delicious, fresh fruit.
Although Raju, the elephant released after 50 years, is believed to be in his 50s, he still has plenty of years to live in this very special place. Asian elephants can live to be approximately 60 to 70 years. As Satyanarayan said about Raju, “…today, he knows what freedom is and he will learn what kindness feels like and what it’s like to not suffer anymore.”
As for Wildlife SOS, they are dedicated to saving more elephants. In fact, in September 2016, the organization saved an abused elephant named Mohan. Originally, the organization had hoped to rescue Mohan at the same time that they had saved Raju. But his owners had disappeared with him. Fortunately, Wildlife SOS was able to locate and rescue him.
And now Mohan can enjoy his freedom alongside Raju and the other elephants at the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre. This small family of rescue elephants has even earned a touching name — the Herd of Hope.