An elephant who only knew suffering his entire life is finally learning something new: love.
Raju has been held in spiked chains, often beaten or otherwise abused for 50 years. This past weekend, Wildlife SOS orchestrated a midnight mission to rescue Raju from the Uttar Pradesh area in India. Under the cover of night, a group of vets, wildlife experts and policemen finally freed the elephant as the clock rolled over into July 4, Independence Day.
And Raju responded with tears of joy.
"Raju has spent the past 50 years living a pitiful existence in chains 24 hours a day, an act of intolerable cruelty," Wildlife SOS spokesperson Pooja Binepal said. "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."
He continued, "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."
"Very little is known about his early years but we believe he was poached from the his mother as a young calf," Pooja explains. From there Raju was sold as a tourist attraction, begging for coins with his trunk, without shelter, and only fed what passersby would give him, or whatever plastic or paper he could get ahold of.
"The chains around his legs had spikes which were cutting into his flesh—and each time he moved pus 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," Pooja says. "The exploitation and abuse just had to stop."
For Raju, it has.
"Until we stepped in he'd never known what it is like to walk free of his shackles," Wildlife SOS points out. They brought Raju 350 miles away to the charity's Elephant Conservation and Care Centre at Mathura. There, all his chains were finally removed, he was given a bath, and a good meal.
"Today he knows what freedom is and he will learn what kindness feels like and what it's like to not suffer any more."
After Raju is rehabilitated, he will join two other elephants the charity has saved and live out his days in peace. And, at the end of the day, Raju's weren't the only tears: "We all had tears in our eyes as the last rope which held the final spike was cut," Pooja says. "And Raju took his first steps of freedom."
Wildlife SOS is now hoping to raise £10,000 to cover Raju's expenses, as well as to help build a new enclosure which will allow him to roam free with his adoptive family. You can donate to the campaign on their website.