An elephant who was brought to tears after being held in chains and beaten for more than 50 years has finally been declared free from his former abusive owners.
Raju was left bleeding from spiked shackles and living on hand-outs from passing tourists after he was captured and tied up by his ‘owner’.
The majestic animal had been forced to hold out his trunk and beg for coins from passers-by – surviving only on plastic and paper for food in the Uttar Pradesh area of India.
This prompted a 10-strong team of vets and wildlife experts as well as 20 forestry department officers and six policemen to seize Raju from his suffering in July of this year.
But, after 50 years of torture, the animal cried tears of relief after he was rescued by a wildlife charity in a daring midnight operation – fittingly on American Independence Day.
However, last month the elephant’s future was left hanging in the balance after his former owners launched a legal battle to reclaim him after insisting he was their ‘rightful property’.
But last night after a series of hearings, an Indian court ruled that Raju must stay with his rescuers from the British charity Wildlife SOS.
Founder of the charity Kartick Satyanarayan, who led the daring, midnight rescue to save Raju 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.
‘Elephants are majestic, intelligent animals, who are proven to grieve and feel emotion – so for an elephant to suffer for 50 years in chains, as Raju has, is truly barbaric.
‘When his former owners launched a legal bid to get him back it was unthinkable that he could return to the life he’d had begging on the streets in shackles.
‘We were determined to fight for him to ensure he could live out his days free from beatings and harm and we’ve had many a sleepless night worrying about what the future held for him.
‘He had been so terribly brutalised for 50 years that we feared he’d be unable to live with his own kind. He didn’t even know how to be an elephant. But now he’s joined our herd of rescued Indian elephants it’s like he’s always been with them.’
In the court in India, Wildlife SOS lawyers argued an elephant cannot be owned by someone under Indian law as they are all owned by the Government.
They successfully argued that only a license issued from the Chief Wildlife Warden is proof of ownership.
When the legal team of Raju’s previous owner were unable to produce a certificate the case was dismissed.
Wildlife SOS executive director Nikki Sharp explained: ‘This meant that Raju was finally truly free and there is no chance he will be returned to the shackles that chained him for 50 years.
‘It was completely outrageous to us that two months after we’d cut his chains his freedom was threatened.
‘He had just started to settle into his new home with our charity, making friends and learning to trust people.
‘It was too cruel to contemplate that this was under threat.
‘Although we always hoped we would win this case because we all love Raju we couldn’t help but feel profound anxiety over what was happening. Now, finally his future is secure.’
The court case followed the rescue of Raju by the London-based charity who had stepped in to save the elephant from dying in his bonds.
Mr Satyanarayan added: ‘Like all of the elephants we have rescued, we believe Raju was poached from the his mother as a young calf.
‘The poachers either slaughter the mother, or they drive the herd into traps that are small enough only for the babies to fall into. The mother cries for her baby for days after he’s been stolen – it is a sickening trade.
‘The calves are then tied and beaten until they submit to their owners – their spirits are effectively broken.
‘Raju’s case was particularly tragic. 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.
‘By the time we found him in July 2013 he was in a pathetic condition. He had no shelter for him at night, and was being used as a prop to beg from dawn until dusk from tourists visiting the sites of India.
‘He hadn’t been fed properly and tourists started giving him sweet food items and because he was in a state of hunger and exhaustion he began eating plastic and paper.
‘It took us 45 minutes to remove the shackles that had torn into the flesh on his legs for the past 50 years – and act of unthinkable cruelty. And it was when he was finally freed that tears gushed down his face. I’d never seen anything like it in my life.
‘His legs were so covered in absesses and his feet so damaged by walking on hard tarmac roads, that we have spent £40,000 so far on his medical treatment, and we still have a long way to go as he has a serious limp and open 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. The exploitation and abuse just had to stop.’
Now the charity has launched a Christmas campaign to save the last 67 performing circus elephants in India to join the charity’s herd of hope.
Mr Satyanarayan added: ‘Raju and our herd of hope are the lucky ones. But there are 67 performing elephants in India – many of which suffer daily beatings in order to make them perform.
‘We’re already planning our next rescue – the desperate case of a blind elephant who is forced to perform even though she can’t see for crowds. It’s a pitiful case and we need to free her so she can join Raju.
‘Now the public can help him live out a dignified life in peace with even a small donation,’ Mr said Kartick, whose charity is dependent on public donations.
‘All these elephants have known from human beings is pain and suffering – now we’re asking to help us help him live out their days, with grass under their feet – free from humiliation and pain.’v