Yes, that dark trail on his face is from crying. Yes, you may cry now. (via WildlifeSOS)

At almost 50 years old, Raju the elephant has spent almost his entire half-century life in miserable captivity before being rescued last week by Wildlife SOS. While seeing an emotional and intelligent creature like an elephant neglected, starved, and hobbled might bring tears to any human's eye, what makes this story even more notable is that when activists, veterinarians, forestry department officers and police made a late-night rescue of the animal, Raju himself started crying—at least in part, it's believed, because he knew things were finally changing.

Raju as a beggar, seen here begging to get out of the heat and get some water. (via)

Although it's thought Raju has had as many as 27 owners since being captured as a baby, he was most recently used as a begging elephant in Allahabad, in the Uttar Pradesh region of India. Forced to work in the hot sun all day (Indian elephants prefer shady forests), Raju's movement was limited at all times by spiked chains that left chronic wounds in his legs. Raju's owner, or mahout, would get tips in exchange for "blessings" from the elephant, which included giving people Raju's tail hair, which had been completely torn out. Raju himself mostly relied on scraps of food from people, most of which was not appropriate for him to eat. He was so neglected that he would eat plastic and paper just to fill his stomach.

Not only did the chains leave chronic, oozing wounds, but walking on hot asphalt all day
severely damaged his footpads. 

After finding out about Raju's situation, Wildlife SOS filed papers with the Uttar Pradesh Forest department to rescue the animal and take him to their sanctuary. After receiving a court approval, they conducted two days of surveillance to make sure Raju's owners did not flee before action could be taken. Late on July 3rd, 10 veterinarians and Wildlife SOS activists joined 20 Forest Department officers and two policemen in a night-time rescue mission (it was at night in order to minimize disturbances from his owners and also to keep Raju out of the heat). Raju's captors did not yield easily, however; they loaded the elephant down with even more spiked chains and started yelling at the animal to try to provoke him and cause a dangerous situation. 

This picture is worth repeating. (via)

Here is how Wildlife SOS founder Kartick Satyanarayan, described the moment to the Sunday People:

“[Raju's owner] began to shout commands to terrify Raju and try to provoke him. It created an incredibly ­dangerous situation because a bull elephant can snap a human like a toothpick if he becomes afraid or angry. Then he put chains around Raju’s legs in an ­attempt to stop us moving him. They were so viciously tight they were cutting into his legs. But 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 but he also seemed to sense that change was coming. He felt hope for the first time."

Think about this the next time you complain about a splinter. (via)

They were not able to get Raju's chains off immediately, so they had to walk him 200 agonizing yards to a truck and then spend hours winning his trust with fruits and encouragement before he could be loaded and sedated on the vehicle. Finally, he arrived at the wildlife sanctuary where he will be spending his much more relaxed retirement with other elephants who were rescued from abuse. 45 minutes later, 5 people working together were able to remove his spiked chains at last.

It's hard to see, but he's got a bunch of bananas in his trunk. :) (via)

“He took his first step to freedom at one minute past midnight on July 4, US ­independence day. It felt fitting," said Satyanarayan, "The other elephants in the sanctuary woke up as we pulled in and came to have a look. It was an extraordinary moment.” 

Is there any greater symbol of freedom than a shower whenever you want it? (via)

The spiked shackles will be sent to a museum to educate people about this kind of cruelty, and Raju's story is inspiring people all over the world—although he's certainly earned his retirement from public appearances. 

Raju happily eating a jackfruit. They have literally given him a truckload of them. (via)

Visit Wildlife SOS to learn more, or donate money for Raju's care here.

(by Johnny McNulty)