Elephants are known to be large friendly creatures that most of us have grown to adore, but in places, these majestic creatures are still treated very inhumanely by their masters who consider wild animals their personal property to do with them as they please. This is a sad story of Raju, a majestic wild elephant in India who was illegally captured by his owner and badly abused by the barbaric captive. Miraculously a team of caring animal rights activists intervened to rescue the poor creature from the hands of his cruel master who was slowing killing the elephant. The reaction they got from Raju when they unchained him for the first time was truly heart-wrenching.
No one would ever think of taking a small animal away from its family – especially a wild elephant that belongs in its natural habitat with other animals of its kind, but one poacher from India decided to steal a baby elephant from the wild and sell it in the market to other humans to do with the animal as they pleased.
The baby elephant who was separated from his mother at such a young age was called Raju, a harmless creature who was treated cruelly ever since he was stolen from his home. In India, animal cruelty is practiced commonly and publically, and Raju was no exception to the brutal practice. In fact, his story of captivity began as soon as he was taken from the wilds in Uttar Pradesh, India and sold off to a cruel master. Since then he had been passed on to other owners who treated them worse than the previous ones. Raju was used to earning money for his barbaric captives who used the animal for public shows to get money from the local people. Little did these people know the real truth about how Raju was being treated by his owner.
Mr. Binepal, a member of the SOS wildlife department, said in an interview that animal poaching is a seriously dangerous tradition practiced in India, where the babies are taken from their mothers and the mothers are either killed or put into traps that are too small for them.
The elephant mothers who have their babies stolen from them spend days crying out for them in distress – something similar happened to Raju as well when he was a baby. Mr. Binepal explained, “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.” Raju had been kept captive for almost 50 years of his life. His most recent owner was a resident of a small town in India called Allahabad, who was known for his abusive behavior not only towards animals but also humans, including his own wife and children.
He had owned several animals before who would earn him money from public shows in religious ceremonies. He would always sell the animals when they were no longer in a fit condition to serve him or leave them to die by the side of the road. His latest captive was Raju, who had already had so many abusive owners in the past.
Despite being treated so poorly for 5 decades, Raju never did any harm to his owners or people around him. The poor animal was helpless against his masters who used him in the tourism industry. Raju would have to walk for miles without proper food to earn his owner money through elephant rides and tricks. For the onlookers, using wild animals for public entertainment was a common practice hence the reason why no one ever protested when they saw Raju being treated badly by his owner. But thankfully the animal’s silent pleads were heard by animals rights activists in India who were on a mission to set wild animals free from cruel captives.
Captured as a baby from the wild, Raju had forgotten how it felt to be free after being in captivity for more than five decades. Raju had to walk in the streets on India and rough asphalt roads that were slowly eroding his feet making it painful for him to walk; on top of that the poor animal always had to walk in heavy chains tied around his ankles. These chains had painful metal spikes on them which would dig inside the flesh of the elephant making every step more painful.
The spiked shackles that Raju had to walk in were causing him to bleed continuously but his wounds were not tended to, making him more susceptible to infections but his owner couldn’t care less about his poor condition. Not just that but Raju was also made to walk in the burning summer head for hours without water and food. The hot weather would often take a toll on Raju’s health but despite all the money that he earned for his owner, none of it was ever spent to provide Raju medical treatment.
Raju’s owner would take the elephant to religious sanctuaries when elephants were considered as spiritual beings. People at these sanctuaries would throw coins at the owner to get the elephant’s blessing. But in truth it was Raju who needed the blessing and care of the people around him but instead he was at the mercy of a cruel owner whose inhumane attitude towards Raju was slowly killing the animal. None of the money that the owner earned through Raju was ever spent on feeding the animal proper food; as a result, Raju was always hungry and weak.
In fact Raju was always starving and he would anything that was put in front of him. The pilgrims and the onlookers at the religious sanctuaries and tourist spots would usually throw some food at the elephant and these hand-outs were all that Raju was surviving on. Raju’s condition was terrible by the time he was found by SOS wildlife, a North London based charity organization and if it wasn’t for them, he would have not been able to survive for much longer at the hands of his cruel master.
The asphalt covered roads were doing more damage to Raju’s feet than anyone could have ever imagined. The poor elephant was beginning to develop a foot injury from the wear and tear on the soles of his feet. If Raju had fallen sick and become unable to walk anymore, he would have been of no use to his masters and like every other animal that he had owned before, his captive would leave Raju by the side of a road to die without ever seeking any medical care for him. For the sake of his survival, Raju knew that he had to continue moving.
Raju’s skin was suffering from serious wear and tear as there were busies all over his body – an evidence of the barbaric treatment that he was given by his master. His feet had overgrown footpads and untrimmed nails that were digging into his flesh, constantly causing him to bleed. Had it continued for a longer period of time, he would have gotten a serious infection which would have made it impossible for him to walk. Wildlife SOS founder Kartick Satyanarayan said in an interview after they rescued Raju, “Raju has spent the past 50 years living a pitiful existence in chains 24 hours a day, an act of intolerable cruelty.”
When the team from SOS organization found him, Raju was so weak and frail that it seemed that he was on the verge of dying. His nutrition badly neglected by his owner who paid little attention to what Raju was eating. He weighed far less than a normal, healthy elephant and was extremely malnourished. For 5 decades he had been living on food that was not appropriate for an elephant, most of which came from the tourists who would throw scraps of bread. Having nothing else to eat at times, Raju would resort to eating paper and plastic from the pavement.
Ms Binepal expressed her concern over Raju’s nutrition by telling the interviewer, “He hasn’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.” As if it wasn’t hard enough for him to walk all day on an empty stomach, he also had to drag himself in heavy brass chains which had been on his feet even since he was captured by the poachers 50 years ago. These chains were meant to control the majestic creature and to prevent him from escaping.
The wildlife representatives went into more details about Raju’s alarmingly poor condition by saying, “By the time we found him in July 2013 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 puss would ooze out of wounds. Pain and brutality were all he knew.”
Elephants are known to be more intelligent than other animals, and they feel pain just like humans do. Torturing a highly intellectual creature like Raju for more than five decades seems unimaginable to most, but for Raju, all love and respect for humanity had lost since he had been treated with nothing cruelty for half a century. Just when he had given up his last hope of ever being free again, a miracle restored his faith in humanity and returned him back the freedom that had been snatched from him many decades ago.
Mr. Satyanarayan said that seeing the elephant in such a pitiful condition was very emotional for the rescue team who helped in freeing Raju from his master. He said, “Until we stepped in he’d never known what it is like to walk free of his shackles – it’s a truly pitiful case. 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.” It was indeed a sad sight to see an animal being exploited for so long and through such barbaric practices and for the society to accept these practices as the norm.
If it weren’t for a kind-hearted man who once saw Raju being mistreated on the streets of India and decided to help him in some way, this case of animal abuse would have never come to the notice of SOS wildlife organization. The man who saw the open physical abuse inflicted on the elephant became extremely concerned about the well-being of the animal and wrote a letter to the SOS organization, asking for their help. No one else seemed to care for Raju’s pain, and the organization was the last hope for the survival of the poor animal.
After Raju’s case had come to the knowledge of the wildlife organization, they were quick to act on, setting up a meeting with the Uttar Pradesh Forest department to discuss how they would proceed with the rescue mission. They knew that a rescue mission this big would not be easy they would have to start by getting legal help in order to carry out the process lawfully. They appealed to the court to get their attention towards the seriousness of the situation but they did not have much time since Raju’s health was deteriorating by the day and they had to get to him faster.
Te wildlife organization made it clear to the court that they wanted to confiscate Raju from the current owner and put him in an elephant sanctuary away from all the torment and abuse that he had been through for almost half a century. Raju’s owner knew that he was now in trouble since he had no legal ownership documents for keeping the animal. The court carried out the confiscation process issued its final order, allowing the team to proceed with their rescue mission. The team, led by Wildlife SOS founder Kartick Satyanarayan was beyond itself for finally getting the green signal from the court.