7 min read

The Sad Story Behind These Chains And Bullhooks

“Visitors and volunteers tend to be horrified when they see these tools for the first time.”

For 50 miserable years, Raju the elephant was shackled up in chains — thick, rusty chains that rubbed his skin raw. One of Raju’s back legs was fastened with a spiked chain, which painfully cut into the elephant’s sensitive skin.  

While Raju had various owners throughout his life, the last one forced Raju to walk the roads in Uttar Pradesh, India, interacting with tourists in exchange for money. If Raju misbehaved or didn’t perform well, the owner beat him with a sharp spear. And when Raju wasn’t working, he was kept tethered up without access to food or water. The only way the elephant survived was through food handouts from passersby.

Elephant chained up outside
Raju before he was rescued in 2014 — his owner kept him chained up outside without food or water | Wildlife SOS

In July 2014, life finally got better for Raju — a team of rescuers from Wildlife SOS confronted Raju’s cruel owner and negotiated the elephant’s freedom. When rescuers removed the chains from Raju’s legs, water spilled from the elephant’s eyes.

“He appeared to be shedding tears when he was freed, as though he knew the life of chains and beatings were behind him,” Arinita Sandilya, a spokesperson for Wildlife SOS, told The Dodo. “Raju had abscesses on his foot pads due to improper care and several wounds on his body caused by chains and other tools used to inflict fear and pain. His gaunt, emaciated frame, riddled with scars from garish wounds, was held up by limbs weakened from overwork and neglect.”

Man cutting chain from elephant's foot
A member of the Wildlife SOS rescue team removing the chains from Raju's legs | Wildlife SOS

Raju now lives at the Elephant Conservation and Care Center run by Wildlife SOS in Mathura, India. He’s mostly recovered from his injuries, although it’s taken a long time for him to heal, according to Sandilya.

“He has gained more than 1,000 kilos [about 2,204 pounds] and his feet are in a much better condition now, and the abscess on his right foot has healed completely,” Sandilya said. “Even the other wounds, including abscesses on his right shoulder and left hip, are steadily progressing towards recovery with regular treatment.”

Rescue elephant ready to eat a piece of cake
Raju enjoying life at the Elephant Conservation and Care Center | Wildlife SOS

Now Raju’s old chains, as well as the spear his former owner used to hit him, are displayed at the entryway of the sanctuary. Also on display are bullhooks — prods with sharp tips and hooks used to “train” elephants — that the team confiscated when rescuing two other captive elephants, Bijli and Asha.

“Not a lot of people realize that these metal chains and bullhooks rust over time, which causes infections,” Sandilya added. “One also doesn’t always see the spikes that dig deep into the elephant’s leg from afar — but seeing these brutal tools up close shed light on the harsh reality of the life led by elephants in captivity.”

Chains and bullhooks used to train an elephant
Naomi Dymond

Sadly, Raju’s situation is extremely common. In India and other countries throughout Asia, thousands of elephants are used for entertainment purposes. Like Raju, some are forced to perform on the streets, while others are used in circuses or tourist camps. The vast majority of these elephants are kept in cruel and abusive situations, and owners regularly inflict pain upon the elephants to beat them into submission.

Chains and bullhooks used to train an elephant
Naomi Dymond

To train young elephants to carry tourists on their backs, trainers will shove the elephants into cages, hit them and deprive them of food — this cruel process is known as the “crush” because it’s designed to break an elephant’s spirit.

But it’s not just during the early training process that elephants are abused — they tend to be beaten throughout their lives. Recently, a man at a tourist camp in Thailand was filmed beating a chained elephant with a wooden paddle.

Chains and bullhooks used to train an elephant
Naomi Dymond

Wildlife SOS is working hard to save as many elephants as possible in India — so far, the organization has rescued and rehabilitated 27 elephants, including Raju, Bijli and Asha.

“All of our rescued elephants have shocking stories of the situations they had to be rescued from,” Sandilya said. “No longer forced to bear heavy loads, or walk on hot pavement, these majestic creatures are finally able to spend their days happily, with frequent baths, a nutritious diet, and lifetime veterinary care and treatment.”

To help rescue more elephants like Raju, you can make a donation to Wildlife SOS.