'Emotional moment': Elephant cries tears of joy as it walks free after 50 years
Marlene Leung, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, July 10, 2014 2:04PM EDT
An elephant shed tears after recently being freed after spending 50 years in captivity in India, thanks to a lengthy and emotional rescue operation organized by a wildlife conservation group.
Wildlife SOS India helped to free Raju the elephant in the early hours of July 4.
After being released from the chains and spikes that were holding him down, the makna bull elephant cried, according to Wildlife's co-founder Kartick Satyanaryan.
"It was a very emotional moment for all of us," Satyanaryan told CTV News Channel on Thursday, adding that the rescue process took hours to complete.
"We started walking with him at 6:30 p.m., trying to loosen his chains and it was almost impossible."
Satyanaryan said Wildlife SOS was initially tipped off about Raju's captivity by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department, and it took one year for conservation officials to get the necessary permits required to initiate the rescue process.
"We had to initially send an undercover team to make sure that the owners, the people who had the elephant in custody, were not going to move him away," he said. "So we really had to keep tabs on the elephant."
When it was finally time to "swoop in" and rescue Raju, his owners enlisted the help of “hooligans” to block the rescue team, Satyanaryan said.
The elephant's owners also purposely agitated the animal, in order to confuse him and make him hostile to the people who were trying to help him.
"Basically, they were prodding him and steering him with spears, and making him extremely uncomfortable," Satyanaryan said.
Wildlife co-founder Geeta Seshamani said the chains around Raju's legs were covered in spikes, which cut into his flesh.
"Pain and brutality were all he knew. His cruel handler even tore out all the hair from his tail to sell as good luck charms," she said in a statement on Wildlife's website. "The exploitation and abuse just had to stop."
Some 30 police officers became involved in the rescue, and along with a determined team from the Elephant Conservation and Care Center in Mathura (ECCC) they were finally able to free the animal.
"At about 3 (a.m.) in the morning, when we'd worked the whole night through, he then suddenly calmed down, and he realized that we were not there to harm him," Satyanaryan said. "And then we saw this water coming down his cheeks from his eyes."
The team was able to guide Raju into a large truck, which then transported him to ECCC's chain-free elephant care centre.
Not much is known about the elephant's early years, but Wildlife SOS believes that Raju was poached as a young calf, and then sold to several different owners who abused him to make money.
Elephants are a protected species under Indian law, and it is illegal to exploit, sell, buy, or trade them in the country. However, this did not stop Raju's many different owners from selling him many times over, Satyanaryan said.
"Despite the laws, it's just completely ignored," he said, noting that this is why he works to protect India's wildlife.
"That's what Wildlife SOS is fighting for, to try and get respect for these magnificent creatures that belong on this planet, and have as much right as all of us humans have."