Raju is an Asian elephant who spent 50-years of life in chains, with spikes wrapped around his bleeding legs, shackled and enslaved by his drug addicted owner, used as a prop to beg for money in the streets of India. Every day he suffered, often surviving only on plastic and paper for food.
However, unlike many elephants currently in captivity around the world, Raju's tale takes a different turn, a joyous one. This July 4, our Independence Day, is also the celebration of Raju gaining his own freedom one year ago. He would like to share his story with you, and hope that you will find it in your heart to help other captive elephants around the world.
Raju began his life as a calf in the wild, captured by poachers. He was transferred from owner to owner, each one beating him to break his spirit, forcing him to beg for coins in the streets, using his trunk. He was broken and battered, his legs pained by chronic wounds and arthritis, Each time he moved, puss would ooze out of his wounds. He had no shelter to cover him from the blazing sun, wind or rain. His body was covered with scars from the bullhook used to control him.
Pooja Binepal, the charity's U.K. spokesperson observed that, "His cruel handler even tore out the hair from his tail to sell as good luck charms."
For a year, Wildlife SOS, worked diligently through the court system, and utilized petitions, to free this now 7,400 lb, 11 foot tall pachyderm from his bondage. They had been alerted to the plight of the elephant by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department, and the charity caught up with him in July, 2013. Raju's current owner was formerly ordered by the court to relinquish him, but he refused. At this point, the activists knew they had to come up with an alternative to save the elephant's life.
When they launched their plan, Wildlife SOS founder Kartick Satyanarayan carried out two days of surveillance before launching the rescue. They knew it would not be an easy task, but watching Raju being regularly beaten and abused, enchained 24-hours a day, his rescue team were left with no choice. They had to act, and act quickly. Each day of bondage brought him closer to death. He was emaciated, dehydrated and exhausted.
Exactly one year to the day when they were first alerted to Raju's plight, on July 4, 2014, 10 vets and wildlife experts from Wildlife SOS were joined by 20 Forestry Commission officers and six police officers in the clandestine raid on Raju's camp in Uttar Pradesh, India. Under cover of darkness, so they would not be detected, and to protect the animal from the heat of the sun, the team approached the camp at night with a truck.
Raju's owner was somehow alerted; he tried to stop him from being taken and had added even more enslaving chains. He even tried to get people to block the roads, and not allow the rescue truck to go through. But Raju's rescuers were victorious; they loaded the sedated bull elephant onto his escape vehicle, and began the 350 mile trip to the Elephant Conservation and Care Center (ECCC) in Mathura.
Once his shackles were removed from his legs, Team Raju members believe they witnessed tears of joy streaming down his face, knowing that he was finally free. As humans, it is impossible to say for certain what emotions Raju may have been feeling at that moment. However, to no longer feel the chains around his aching legs, to be released from the spikes digging into his flesh, you can have no doubt this animal must have felt extremely relieved, maybe even a little frightened. All he had known for 50 years was pain and torture. Release from that bondage must surely have been a huge relief.
Raju's owner, Mr. Shahid, tried to regain custody of him through the court system. Petitions to prevent this return to cruelty flew around the web. Wildlife SOS. appealed to the Uttar Pradesh Government to not let that happen. They asked that his former owner be punished, and that Raju be allowed to live out his life with dignity at the Care Center in Mathura.
This petition found almost 470,000 supporters, and on December 2, 2014, Wildlife SOS declared victory.
"We won! we are so grateful to all the people around the world who helped Raju by donating or by signing this petition on Change.org. Knowing that Raju will live free with us for the rest of his days is the best Holiday gift we could imagine, and we share it with everyone who has been touched by his story."
Once the decision was announced, Satyanarayan said, "We are beyond overjoyed that Raju is finally saved. This is a huge victory, not only for Raju, but for every elephant suffering in pain silently."
It took a long time for experts to earn his trust. He was timid and fearful. His legs were covered in abscesses and feet damaged from walking on hard roads for 50 years. A trained team of veterinarians took care of him, and slowly, and carefully treated and healed his beaten body, and even more, his broken spirit.
Raju now lives with other ele's in peace and contentment with the Herd of Hope, free from humiliation and pain. Geeta Seshamani, Co-Founder of Wildlife SOS. says, "Raju has formed new friendships, especially with "the munchkin" female elephants Laxmi, Bijli and Chanchal." Steve Koyle, volunteer and elephant keeper says that after being told what to do his entire life, now "he has freedom of choice."
Nikki Sharp, Wildlife SOS-USA, Executive Director, points out that although Raju's story has a happy ending, there are still thousands of Asian elephants chained, abused and in need of rescue. "We want his story to inspire and compel supporters to get involved and help save these amazing and endangered creatures." There are approximately 2,000-3,000 elephants that are chained and abused every day in India.
An elephant whose life hangs in the balance right now is named Mohan. Kate Schnepel, the Director of Communications for Wildlife SOS, says, "the court date for his case is set for July 16. We are hopeful the decision will be in our favor, so we will finally be able to rescue poor Mohan and care for him alongside the other elephants in the Herd of Hope." Here is a petition that you can sign to encourage decision-makers to secure his freedom. He currently has over 200,000 supporters, and would love 100,000 more. Please join Wildlife SOS, and ask the District Magistrate to throw out his owner's case, just as they did in Raju's, Allow Mohan to enjoy the rest of his life in peace.
Mohan, like Raju, has lived 50 years with endless beatings and dehydration. He is forced to work carrying heavy loads. Please sign the petition and help Mohan gain his freedom as well.
To get involved and help the thousands of Rajus who have not yet been given freedom:
Wildlife SOS will also be celebrating Raju on social media for the entire month of July, so be sure you find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Tumblr so you don't miss any of the fun!
They also have wonderful blogs, where you can read about other ele's Wildlife SOS has helped, like Suzy. Rescued and now living a wonderful life at ECCC, she is now 60 years old. For years, she was a performing elephant in a circus. Not only did she suffer much neglect, chaining and mental torture; she is also completely blind. There are 66 circus elephants that are still forced to perform throughout India. Though she suffered a lifetime of misery, Suzy was one of the lucky ones and can now enjoy the rest of her years in freedom.
In case you want more fascinating "ele-phacts," here are a few:
For more information about Raju and Wildlife SOS, please click here, or visit their Facebook page.