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The Terrible Fate of Raja the Baby Elephant

Animals  (tags: abuse, AnimalWelfare, cruelty, environment, ethics, extinction, habitat, sadness, suffering, wildlife )

- 1820 days ago -
The terrible fate of Raja the baby elephant, chained and held hostage by an angry mob: An image that will haunt you and a story that will enrage you

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Mary Riley (999)
Sunday June 30, 2013, 7:18 am
In all the 30 years I have been working in Asian elephant conservation, I thought I had seen it all – blatant corruption, the rape and total disregard of our beautiful planet and sickening wildlife atrocities, to name but a few. All due to the most dangerous animal of all: homo sapiens.

Not much shocks me any more, but something happened in recent weeks that shook me to the core when the charity Elephant Family and the Ecologist Film Unit set out to document the environmental genocide that is out of control on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia.

Sumatra is special to me because I spent a lot of time there on expeditions when I was younger. It was a paradise – vast pristine forests, intact coral reefs and abundant wildlife.
All this has changed now and their elephants are the most endangered on the planet. In a single generation, the population has been cut in half, with countless other animals disappearing at breakneck speed.

During the filming, a helpless, emaciated baby male elephant called Raja, who was barely a year old, was found in a village, shackled with heavy chains to a tree. He had been taken hostage by the villagers, who were demanding compensation from the Sumatran government for the damage his family had done to their crops.

Can you believe that we are now living in a world where people are actually holding baby elephants to ransom? It is almost unthinkable. But just look at the photographs – look at Raja, as he strains against his chains, waving his little trunk for food and reassurance. He is bellowing in desperation for his mother.

I have heard that sound of distressed calves many times in my life. It never fails to haunt me. But it is his eyes that haunt me more than anything – pleading for help – innocent, desperate and helpless.

A war is being waged across Asia. In the face of relentless deforestation, elephants are being forced out of their natural habitats and they have no choice but to share their living space with humans. As the elephants’ forest home is destroyed, stressed and starving herds flee from the chainsaws straight into villages.

They demolish everything in sight, trampling crops, flattening houses and often killing people. Frankly, you really cannot blame the villagers for taking such drastic steps in the sheer desperation to survive and feed their own families.

Capturing a baby elephant and holding it to ransom is grisly and depressing, but it is reality as humans and elephants fight for space.

People need to know why this is happening. They need to understand what is driving this madness.

The cause is an innocently named product called palm oil. It’s a constituent part of almost everything that we use and consume – biscuits, margarine, ice cream, soap, shampoo. The list is endless.

And the blame lies firmly with the greed of the large corporations in the East that produce it as a cash crop to fuel the insatiable consumerism of the Western world.

The thirst for palm oil is apparently unquenchable and its cultivation is ripping out the last great rainforests.

Although forest destruction and its lethal impact on endangered species are plain to see, palm oil is practically an invisible ingredient, listed under the generic term ‘vegetable oil’.

April, Duta Palma, Sinar Mas and Sime Darby may not be household names, but these are just some of the companies producing palm oil in Indonesia and selling it on to the market for about £500 per ton.

L’Occitane, Ferrero, Cadbury, Ginster’s pasties, Clover margarine, Pringles, Kellogg’s, Haribo, Nestlé and Mars are just a few of the more familiar names of those that use palm oil.

All the major supermarkets use palm oil in their own-brand products. Some are better than others in getting palm oil from responsible sources, but the point is that it is everywhere and in everything. It is a silent assassin. Not until 2014 will there be a legal requirement for manufacturers to label palm oil on their products.

And, to make matters worse, the only certification body to monitor the production of so-called ‘sustainable’ palm oil is immensely flawed. Consumer industries are hiding behind a fallacy.

The verdant rainforest of Aceh in North Sumatra is one of the largest left in South-East Asia. It is the only place in the world where elephants, tigers, orang-utans and rhinos all still live together – a real life Jungle Book.

But, right now, the Aceh government is close to adopting a plan that would see hundreds of thousands of hectares of this forest opened up for the cultivation of palm oil. This ironically titled ‘Spatial Plan’ is nothing more than a deforestation plan – an extinction plan, seeking to legitimise the illegal felling that is already happening.

Environmentalists agree that we need to protect about 65 per cent of Aceh’s forest if we are to save its biodiversity. The government plan would allow for only 45 per cent to be protected – that’s a difference of way over a million hectares, or more than a million football pitches. The result would be a death blow for wildlife.

Not only will these iconic species be pushed to extinction, the local communities that rely on this forest will be even more exposed to natural disasters. Devastating landslides have already washed away buildings, including entire schools.

They will become unrelenting and vast areas of land will flood.

Wildlife will be forced into ever greater conflict with people, and elephants like Raja won’t stand a chance.

Sadly for him, it is too late. He died alone, still chained to that tree, though Elephant Family worked tirelessly for a week to negotiate his release.

Already we’ve discovered that another calf, this one just a month old, has been captured and held to ransom by local farmers. Everyone is working around the clock to make sure that this little calf survives. I am doubtful.

But in the grander scheme of things there is hope. If there wasn’t hope, I would have packed up my bags a long time ago.

If we can protect these forests and stop the new plan in Aceh from going ahead, then we’re taking a giant step in the right direction.

Hundreds of supporters have already written to the Aceh government urging them to stop destroying their forests. But we need help. We need everyone to write.

Increased knowledge of palm oil and compulsory labelling will finally allow shoppers to make informed choices about what they buy. We need to push food manufacturers and retailers to support a transformation of the industry towards genuine sustainable palm oil, and we need to do it quickly.

I know for a fact that there is a truly powerful will to save these forests and these animals.

On July 9 in London, Elephant Family are holding a magnificent masked Animal Ball to raise urgently needed funds that will help us continue our work in Sumatra and across Asia. More than 600 guests are attending in support.

I know I should be excited about the ball. In many ways I am, because of the great opportunity it presents for conservation, but on the night I know that I will not be able to get Raja and others like him out of my mind.

The Asian elephant barely ever makes the headlines but this is one of the greatest wildlife stories of our time. We are close to losing one of the most enigmatic, iconic and ecologically vital species on the planet. The clock is ticking.

Please help us save Sumatra’s elephants by contributing to the Raja Fund at


Annie Cowling (116)
Sunday June 30, 2013, 9:35 am
ACTION TAKEN, this just sickens me, there seems to be no end to cruelty in this world.

Veronique L (209)
Sunday June 30, 2013, 11:27 am
Didn't find any petition to sign....was there one? Terrible fate, poor little Raja

charlotte nichols (15)
Sunday June 30, 2013, 1:18 pm
Poor baby raja can someone please save the elephant

Monday July 1, 2013, 2:16 am

Past Member (0)
Monday July 1, 2013, 2:42 am
sadly noted

Giana P (398)
Monday July 1, 2013, 2:47 am
Just horrible!

Danuta W (1250)
Monday July 1, 2013, 2:55 am

Elsa Boet (0)
Monday July 1, 2013, 2:58 am
geen woorden voor!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sam E M (0)
Monday July 1, 2013, 3:06 am
The elephants must have been there first and now humans are destroying their habitat, forcing them to resort to eating crops and yet the elephants are getting all the blame. They're supposed to just sit there and starve while the forest is chopped down all around them. Poor little Raja and other innocents like him can't do much against cruel humans with guns and other weapons. Disgusting.

Leslene Dunn (84)
Monday July 1, 2013, 3:17 am
Dear God, how horrendous for this poor baby, I can only imagine what must have been going through her mind, the pain, the suffering, the anguish and above all, the sadness, that we, who are supposed to be caring for them, stoop to this disgraceful level in executing them. Shocking and barbaric and filthy rubbish like this deserve to die the most gruesome and painful deaths. This can never be forgiven, I'm sorry.

Patricia H. (440)
Monday July 1, 2013, 3:21 am
sadly noted, SAVE OUR WILDLIFE

. (0)
Monday July 1, 2013, 3:26 am
Poor baby!! its so sad, I wish I could strangle the buggers that have done this to this poor animal.

Past Member (0)
Monday July 1, 2013, 3:27 am
very sadly noted 1/7,thank you

Ela V (85)
Monday July 1, 2013, 3:51 am
i think i have read too many sad stories lately and seen too many pictures that will haunt me for the rest of my life...

Tanya W (65)
Monday July 1, 2013, 4:15 am
Sadly noted and will sign petition to save this baby if someone devises one.

Monday July 1, 2013, 4:36 am
Ela V. sadly i agree...

June M (139)
Monday July 1, 2013, 4:45 am
sadly noted Mary thanks for sharing

Gloria picchetti (304)
Monday July 1, 2013, 4:59 am
I wish I had the money to help.

cecily w (0)
Monday July 1, 2013, 5:09 am
My God!

Past Member (0)
Monday July 1, 2013, 5:31 am
Care about them like our kids

jaya Sinha (26)
Monday July 1, 2013, 5:40 am
For every action there is a reaction. According to the law of karma, if we cause pain and suffering to other living beings, we must endure pain and suffering in return, both individually and collectively. We reap what we sow, in this life and the next, for nature has her own justice. No one can escape the law of karma

Kerstin S (371)
Monday July 1, 2013, 5:56 am
So sad

Marilyn K (50)
Monday July 1, 2013, 6:13 am
Unfortunately, GREED over humanity, empathy and common sense has once again showed its ugly face.

Past Member (0)
Monday July 1, 2013, 6:25 am
I have always heard that humans are the best of the animals, but no they are definitely the lowest form of life on earth. That Elephant would have hurt no one. But people are cruel bastards. Give me animals over people any time, any place.

Kenneth L (314)
Monday July 1, 2013, 6:33 am
Exceptional article Mary! Your experience, compassion, and work in conservation is to be applauded with all the vigor that can be mustered. You are truly a shining star.
As for Raja and the human-elephant debacle, human-forest debacle, human-nature debacle, of course homo sapiens can be the most dangerous species, because they are capable of harmful intentions AND intelligence, a double whammy to animals and nature. A person usually only thinks in limited terms of their own personal survival, and maybe that of their immediate family. That leaves an incredible disadvantage to other life forms, their habitats, their survival. Humans are usually very myopic and egocentric.

Kenneth L (314)
Monday July 1, 2013, 6:39 am
On closer inspection, it is the author of this article, Mark Shand, who my above commendation refers to. Still a great article for you to post Mary, thanks!

PlsNoMessage se (588)
Monday July 1, 2013, 9:02 am

S B (76)
Monday July 1, 2013, 9:53 am
That poor baby!

desanka s (416)
Monday July 1, 2013, 12:02 pm
One day all people will realize how helpless animals are and how cruel we are. I don't hate anybody but such cruelty must be punished! Thank you Mary.

. (0)
Monday July 1, 2013, 12:10 pm
Noted, there does not seem to be any sensible solution to this problem. So sad.
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