Elephants have been recognized as one of the most intelligent beasts in the animal kingdom. Sadly, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 elephants live in captivity, many suffering abuse at the hands of their owners. Raju, was one such elephant before Wildlife SOS, a team of animal rights activists set him free. Raju’s story will touch your heart.
Raju’s story begins when a poacher snatched him from his mother, who was likely killed or put in a trap. The poacher sold Raju to a cruel master, who used him to panhandle. It wasn’t uncommon to see Raju wandering the streets with his trunk outstretched, begging for money. He was being used as a prop to beg from tourists who were visiting the sites of India. Raju begged from dawn until dusk. His emaciated body lumbered through the streets while the chains’ spikes dug into his flesh, leaving multiple wounds which bled continuously and caused infections. Passersby and tourists were oblivious to the horrors Raju was suffering.
The elephant passed through many owners throughout his 50 years. “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,” Mr. Binepal, a member of Wildlife SOS explained. Wildlife SOS is the group that would rescue Raju.
Raju’s owner lived in a town called Allahabad, and was known for his abusive ways, often beating members of his own family. He would purchase animals like Raju and work them tirelessly by making them perform public shows. After the animals were no longer able to work, he’d either sell them or leave them to die on the side of the road. This cruel timeline of animal abuse looked like it would continue with Raju, but Wildlife SOS had a plan.
Elephants are considered sacred in Indian culture, and Raju’s master often took him to sanctuaries where people could throw coins for a blessing. The owner never used the funds for Raju’s medical care, and instead kept all of the money for himself. Raju was the one who needed a blessing but it seemed that no one could answer his silent pleas.
Raja’s emaciated body lumbered through the streets while the chains’ spikes dug into his flesh, leaving multiple wounds. Left untreated, the wounds bled continuously, increasing the risk of infection. The hot Indian summer meant Raju was desperately in need of water and food to replenish his energy, yet his master failed to provide everything he needed. Raju ate scraps given to him by tourists, but sometimes, he also had to eat trash or plastic to survive.
An unidentified man witnessed the abuse of Raju and knew he had to help. He wrote a letter to Wildlife SOS, an animal rights organization based in India. Team members at Wildlife SOS made an appeal to the local courts for help, but knew time was limited — the animal was already come near death. They wanted to confiscate Raju from his owner, and the court agreed to the request.
Wildlife SOS began their rescue efforts. A team was put together consisting of 10 vets and 6 policemen, as well as 20 members of the forestry department. On July 4, 2014, Wildlife SOS’ team rescued Raju, bringing along a huge trolley to transport the elephant to the sanctuary. The villagers wouldn’t let the team enter, and tense negotiations began to allow the rescue. Finally, the villagers relented after they were threatened with arrests by police. Once they reached Raju, his owner went after the elephant, trying to agitate him into attacking the rescuers, but his efforts didn’t work.
Wildlife SOS describes Raju’s condition on the night of his rescue : “By the time we found him in 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. 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. 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.” The condition of Raju was almost too much for them to bear, but they had no idea how the elephant would react once he was freed.
As the team worked to remove the chains from his legs, Raju’s eyes teared up as he cried in relief. He was loaded onto the trolley slowly, as the team had to take several hours to coax him with fresh fruits and vegetables. The team sedated Raju for the 350 mile trek to Mathura’s Elephant Care and Conservation Center.
It must have been fate to have Raju take his very first step into the elephant sanctuary just after midnight on July 4th, and the rescuers were elated to see him in his new home. Raju was immediately fed a generous portion of biscuits, fruits and vegetables, his first real satisfying meal in years. After he had eaten his fill, doctors and staff removed the remaining chains from Raju’s legs, a process that took over 45 minutes.
Raja’s healing took time, but his abscesses healed completely, and he gained 1,000 kilos. According to Wildlife SOS, he likes to spend his days in the pool playing with toys, including his favorite, a large rubber tire.