It was the day Raju the elephant had been waiting for a long time — a family of his own!
The gentle giant, who captured people’s hearts when he cried as he had been freed from chains for 50 years, has now become part of a herd of five female elephants at Wildlife Sanctuary in India.
His new family, named the Herd of Hope, have all been rescued from barbaric treatment.
And poignantly, they flapped their ears before touching him with their trunks as they welcomed him. They greeted him with an expression of joy.
Kartick Satyanarayana, founder of charity Wildlife SOS, said: “We are delighted Raju fits in so well with the family he has never known since he was orphaned at birth by po.ach.ers.”
He had been so horribly ab.u.sed for fifty years that we feared he would never be able to live among his own kind again.
‘When we first released him, he held back and he was clearly wary. Three of our female elephant friends Laxmi, Chachal, and Sai Geeta came running towards him, their ears flapping wildly, showing their excitement and delight at meeting him. They also made high-pitched trumpeting sounds – a greeting.
Then each of them touched him gently with their trunks, obviously reassuring him before they wandered away into the grazing land at the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre in Mathura.
On July 4 this past year, the charity along with its counterparts in India rescued Raju from dying in a daring midnight rescue mission.
Ten vets and wildlife experts from a charity joined by twenty forestry department officers and six police officers seized Raju in the Uttar Pardesh region.
Mr. Satyanarayan stated, “He’d been taken from the wild as a calf.” Poachers either ki.l.l the mother or drive the herd into traps that are too small for the calves to fall into.
The mother weeps for her infant for days after he’s been taken – the unlawful elephant trade is agony. They’re then chained and beaten until they give in to their masters — their souls are utterly cr.us.hed.
We believe that he has been sold many times and may have had 27 owners – he’s been treated as a commodity and beaten into accepting his new handler every two years of his life.
By the time we discovered him, he was in terrible condition. He hadn’t been fed properly, and tourists began giving him sweet food items, which exacerbated his hunger and tiredness.
He had no shelter at night and would be used as a prop to beg with from dawn until dusk, or he’d be taken for joy rides by tourists. And, perhaps most sadly of all, the shackles that cut into his legs had been there for 50 years. It was awful.
It took us 45 minutes to remove the shackles that had shredded his legs for the previous 50 years – an act of unimaginable torture.
‘His legs were so clogged with boils and his feet had been damaged by walking on hard tarmac highways that we spent far more than anticipated on his medical care, and we have a long way to go because he has a significant limp and open wo.un.ds.’
Raju has also been through much suffering before being saved by charity.
Laxmi, a female calf born in June 2016 and the most recent herd member, was rescued from Mumbai’s streets ten months ago at age 18. Despite her youth, she had advanced arthritis, obesity, and a heart condition.
“She was exploited and utilized as a begging prop, she had been neglected, and her owners had made her dependent on fried junk food,” Mr. Satyanarayan added.
When we rescued her, she was 1,200 kilos overweight and so fat that we had to use a crane to lift her onto our specially strengthened truck to transport her to the clinic. Her knees were buckling because of how huge she was, and she was showing signs of arthritis.
The veterinarians were afraid that she would not survive much longer if she was not rescued right away. But on the drive home, her trunk kept squeezing through the window and she was rooting in the driver’s pockets for a treat.
We’ve spent the last ten months healing her – and we had a lot of trouble getting her to eat the right things. She’s finally becoming healthier, thinner, and more joyful as a free elephant.
‘We are still attempting to prevent Wildlife SOS from giving her back to her sadistic owners. Although the Forest Department granted legal custody of her to Wildlife SOS, her previous cruel masters are petitioning the courts for her return, so we now find ourselves in a court dispute to keep her away from them.’
On June 29, 2012, Chanchal, a 16-year-old female who was h.i.t by a speeding truck on the outskirts of Delhi, was rescued.
Chanchal was left with cuts, shards of glass, and wo.un.ds all over her body, as well as a severely in.jur.ed leg after the second elephant was k.ill.ed instantly. She was malnourished, and her owners were arrested with carelessness.
Mr. Satyanarayan said, “Her leg was fractured and it’s taken us 18 months to nurse her back to health. She’s slowly rebuilding her life.”
Sai Geeta was an elephant in a traveling circus who was saved after being forced to perform with a fractured right rear leg for years.
Mr. Satyanarayan told us: ‘She still has a severe limp where the break was never treated — she fractured severely and had been in agony since they wouldn’t allow her to rest.’
Road to freedom: Raju was taken the sanctuary in Mathura, northern India, in this truck
Finally, Phoolkali was smuggled illegally for many years before the charity was alerted to her situation and she was rescued immediately.
‘Phoolkali had spent more than 40 years of her life working hard, being mistreated, and being under.nour.ished,’ Mr. Satyanarayan said. ‘Her previous owners’ treatment and extreme abuse caused her to lose one eye.’
Her owner would keep her in a windowless, vacant warehouse. Her legal ownership is unknown, so to avoid being discovered by authorities, he transports her across state lines at night.
She was a skinny, frail, and almost skeletal girl with open sores and wo.un.ds all over her.
Now, after a long bath, she loves to throw mud on herself right away — to the irritation of her keeper. She also hurls mud at him when he isn’t looking.
Years to recover: The head of Wildlife SOS said that it takes years to recover from Raju’s decades-long ordeal
The story of Raju and his herd is now a distant memory. And thanks to the generosity of donors to the center, they are also enjoying a rehabilitation pool.
Mr. Satyanarayan said: We are astonished by the kindness of people from all across the world. We hope that, if the donations continue, Raju and the other elephants at the sanctuary who deserve a better life will be able to enjoy better living conditions.
Raju had never been in a pool before we rescued him, and now he spends hours leisurely resting in one. We’d like to express our gratitude to everyone who gave – every dime has made such a difference in Raju’s quality of life.
While the pool is a joy for him, it’s also assisting his rehabilitation since the water’s buoyancy allows him to remove weight from his legs, which are severely pai.n.ful as a result of years of being shackled.
‘He still has years of treatment ahead to cure his physical and mental scars. And, sadly, he isn’t the only one. We have a file on 80 elephants who are in immediate danger of dying due to cruelty, exhaustion, and ab.us.e.’
Now the charity has launched an appeal for £20,000 to mark World Elephant Day on August 12.
Mr. Satyanarayan said: ‘Our goal is to help as many more of these tragic situations as possible before they become too late. It will allow them to experience freedom for the first time in their lives, and live out their days in peace.’