While we’re still mourning the loss of majestic Satao, in India, an emaciated begging elephant named Raju is giving the world something to smile about.
Raju was enslaved and used by a drug dealer for 50 years of his life. Piercing metal spikes penetrated his elephant flesh and shackled him for those 50 years. But Raju has gotten a second chance. His weeping tears during his rescue are giving the world a glimmer of hope.
Raju‘s 50 Years of Abuse
Raju never had a normal life. As reported in The Independent, Raju’s life consisted of frequent beatings and intentional starvation to control him. The poor elephant often had to resort to consuming paper and plastic to fill up his large belly.
He was plucked from the wild by poachers as a baby. The calf’s life was riddled with many different owners — possibly, as many as 27 — who probably weren’t too concerned with his welfare.
The last owner was one of the worst. The drug dealer exploited Raju daily by parading him around for tourists in the streets of Allahabad. He also preyed on religious pilgrims claiming that Raju would bless them for a price. The elephant’s tail was practically hairless since his owner would rip his hair and market it a type of good luck charm.
Raju never had a home, or anything close to the bond of a herd. Even during India’s blazing summers, he lived chained outside with no shelter. It’s a miracle that he survived so long.
Raju‘s Teary Rescue
He probably wouldn’t have made it much longer without the help of Wildlife SOS charity.
The starving and aging elephant lived in constant pain. Imagine what having spikes penetrating your flesh every second would feel like for 50 years? Raju had abscesses, wounds (from the spikes and the spear that was used to dominate him) and chronic arthritis. Every step Raju took was accompanied by oozing pus from his wounds as the spikes dug deeper into his flesh.
Raju also had a type of pain that we may not scientifically understand — a broken spirit.
The elephant was very distrusting of humans because he mostly knew human brutality. His rescuers worked tirelessly to gain his trust. Fruit and positive encouragement eventually got him into the van destined for an elephant sanctuary and a life of freedom.
As reported in Mirror Online, co-founder of Wildlife SOS, explained that the drug dealer vehemently tried to stop the rescue operation; he put even more chains on Raju, he tried to block them from reaching Raju and he tried to get the bull to charge his rescuers with verbal commands. But Wildlife SOS rescuers were determined to save the elephant.
Satyanarayan describes the beautiful moment: “We stood our ground and refused to back down – and as we did so, tears began to roll down Raju’s face. Some no doubt were due to the pain being inflicted by the chains, but he also seemed to sense that change was coming. It was as if he felt hope for the first time in a very long time.”
We’ll never be sure what exactly Raju felt. I’m sure that he felt something. I’m not trying to solely anthropomorphize Raju. According to PBS, elephants lead rich emotional lives. There are numerous anecdotes documenting elephant joy, love, grief, rage, stress, compassion and altruism.
Raju’s first steps as a free elephant were on the American Independence Day holiday. The exhausted and teary-eyed team worked for 45 minutes to remove every spike chain. Raju was then taken to a pen to receive medical care, but he will join two other sanctuary elephants, who are also victims of human brutality, soon.
Elephant Cruelty in India
Raju is one of the lucky ones. Indian elephants are the victims of overwhelming cruelty. As reported in USA Today, not even Paul McCartney’s starpower has saved Sunder, an abused 14-year-old elephant. In 2012, McCartney shared the elephant’s predicament, and the Indian government agreed to release Sunder to the wild. Fast-forward to 2014, news broke that a local politician took the elephant to his home and shackled him to a shed instead, much like Raju.
As Sunder’s story highlights, Indian authorities aren’t supporting elephant welfare efforts, and, sometimes, they contribute to elephant cruelty.
Help Animals India covers the extent of this cruelty. In India, an estimated 4,000 captive elephants endure lives of poor housing, undernourishment and starvation, water scarcity, over and under physical activity, punishment-based training that beats them into submission and a life of loneliness.
Raju’s drug dealing owner might have promoted the elephant as lucky and blessed, but Raju truly is. He is one of 4,000 elephants. Fortunately, Raju’s abscesses, wounds, long nails, overgrown footpads, arthritis and constant pain can be treated, or, at best, managed. His spirit may take some time, but, to me, elephants are capable of more love, compassion and forgiveness than most people.
Photo Credit: PatrynWorldLatestNew / YouTube screenshot
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