Elephant Who Wept Through His Rescue Officially Declared 'Free'
Earlier this year, the story of an elephant named Raju touched the hearts of many people around the world. After 50 years of suffering and exploitation at the hands of his owner in India, Raju shed tears as volunteers from the group Wildlife SOS freed him from painful shackles.
But that was only the beginning of Raju's bid for freedom. Not long after Wildlife SOS intervened and relocated him to a sanctuary, the man who kept the elephant chained, launched a legal battle claiming that Raju was his rightful property.
A legal team from Wildlife SOS fought "tooth and nail" to ensure Raju's freedom, bolstered by a petition on Change.org which garnered a whopping 467,000 signatures from supporters around the globe. And on Tuesday, India's Allahabad High Court ruled in Raju's favor - officially declaring him free to live out his days in peace on the grounds of the sanctuary among elephants just like himself.
"We are all very excited and happy," Suvidha Bhatnagar of Wildlife SOS told The Dodo by phone. "It's the greatest news."
Rupak De, Chief Conservator of Forests in Raju's home state of Uttar Pradesh, echoes that sentiment in a press release from Wildlife SOS, saying it reaffirms the notion that animals are as deserving of the basic rights of liberty afforded to humans by law.
"The constitution of India speaks of freedom which includes not only people but animals as well," he said. "I am very happy and proud that we are able to afford the provision of constitution in letter and spirit. I am also thankful to the Judiciary for supporting a just cause and saving Raju the elephant. "
But Raju is hardly an isolated case. As Wildlife SOS co-founder Geeta Seshamani points out, there are countless elephants across India enduring cruel treatment every day who are in need of rescue. With this recent ruling, hope for them is buoyed as well.
"This is a huge victory not only for Raju, but for every elephant suffering in pain silently," says Seshamani.
"We've been overwhelmed by the support we've received all over the world to help Raju. But while he is going to have a happy ending, other elephants aren't so lucky. We've launched a campaign to save the last 67 performing circus elephants in India - whose lives are full of pain and misery, just as Raju's was. We are already preparing our first rescue of a blind, beaten and abused performing circus elephant named Suzy."
To learn more about Wildlife SOS, and to find out how to help, visit the group's website here.