No Wonder He’s All Smiles! Raju The Crying Elephant, Who Moved The World After Being Pictured In Tears When He Was Freed From His Chains, Is Welcomed To His New Home – By Five Females

It was the moment Raju the Elephant had waited a lifetime for – a family of his own.

In July 2014 the gentle giant, who captured the hearts of people from around the world when he cried as he was freed from chains after 50 years – joined five female Elephants at Wildlife SOS’s Elephant Conservation and Care Centre in India.

His new family, named the Herd of Hope, have all been rescued from barbaric treatment.

HAPPY CHAPPY: RAJU, CENTRE, WAS INTRODUCED TO HIS NEW FRIENDS AT A CONSERVATION CENTRE IN INDIA
ENJOYING HIMSELF: RAJU SMILES WIDELY AS HE RELAXES IN THE POOL NEXT TO HIS NEW FAMILY – CALLED THE HERD OF HOPE.
GANG’S ALL HERE: RAJU’S FRIENDS HAVE ALSO ESCAPED FROM GREAT CRUELTY AND NOW LIVE IN MATHURA, NORTHERN INDIA.

And poignantly, they flapped their ears – an expression of joy – before touching him with their trunks as they welcomed him.

Charity Wildlife SOS founder Kartick Satyanarayan, who led the rescue operation to save Raju, said: ‘We are delighted Raju has fitted in so well with the first family he’s ever had since he was orphaned by poachers as a calf.

‘He had been so terribly brutalized for 50 years that we feared he’d be unable to live with his own kind. He didn’t even know how to be an Elephant. But now it’s like he’s always been with them.

‘When we first released him, he held back, and he was clearly wary. Three of our female Elephants Laxmi, Chanchal and Sai Geeta ran up to him – their ears flapping wildly –a sign they were excited and delighted to meet him. They also made high-pitched trumpeting sounds – a greeting.

AFFECTIONATE: ONE OF RAJU’S FEMALE FRIENDS, LEFT, STROKES HIS TRUNK WITH HERS. HE WAS INITIALLY WARY OF CONTACT BECAUSE OF HIS APPALLING TREATMENT AT THE HANDS OF HIS CAPTORS.
REHABILITATION: THE POOL’S WATER LETS RAJU TAKE WEIGHT OFF OF HIS LEGS – WHICH ARE PAINFUL FROM YEARS OF ABUSE.

TAKING IT EASY: RAJU WAS POACHED AS A CALF – AND ENDURED AN AWFUL LIFE AS A TOURIST ATTRACTION – BUT CAN NOW RELAX.

‘Then each of them touched him with their trunks, clearly reassuring him before they wandered off into the grazing land at our Elephant Conservation and Care Centre at Mathura. It was incredibly touching after all he’d been through.’

On July 4 this year the charity along with their counterparts in India saved Raju from dying in his bonds in a daring midnight rescue operation.

A  team of ten vets and wildlife experts from the charity were joined by twenty Forestry Department officers and six policemen to seize Raju in the Uttar Pradesh region.

Mr Satyanarayan said: ‘He’d been poached as a calf from the wild. Poachers either slaughter the mother, or they drive the herd into traps that are small enough only for the babies to fall into.

‘The mother cries for her baby for days after he’s been stolen – the illegal Elephant trade is sickening. The calves are then tied and beaten until they submit to their owners – their spirits are effectively broken.

’27 OWNERS’: RAJU, RIGHT, WAS PASSED FROM OWNER TO OWNER IN CAPTIVITY, AND EVENTUALLY WAS FOUND IN SPIKED CHAINS.

PLAYTIME: RAJU, LEFT, HAS BEEN ABLE TO START HIS RECOVERY IN THE SANCTUARY, AFTER BEING BLIGHTED BY WOUNDS ALL OVER HIS LEGS AND BODY WHILE IN CAPTIVITY.

‘Raju’s case was particularly tragic as we believe he has been sold again and again and might 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 found him he was in a pathetic condition. He hadn’t been fed properly and tourists started giving him sweet food items and because he was in a state of hunger and exhaustion, he began eating plastic and paper.

‘He had no shelter at night and was being used as a prop to beg with from dawn until dusk or being used for giving tourists joy rides. And most heartrendingly of all – the chains that cut into his legs had been there for 50 years. It was horrific.

‘It took us 45 minutes to remove the shackles that had torn into the flesh on his legs for the past 50 years – an act of unthinkable cruelty.

‘His legs were so covered in abscesses and his feet so damaged by walking on hard tarmac roads, that we have spent much more than expected on his medical treatment, and we still have a long way to go as he has a serious limp and open wounds.’

TEARFUL: RAJU, PICTURED ABOVE MOMENTS BEFORE HE WAS FREED FROM CAPTIVITY, CAN BE SEEN WITH ‘TEARS’ STREAMING DOWN HIS FACE.
CRUEL: ACCORDING TO HIS RESCUERS, RAJU HAD BEEN IN CHAINS FOR AS LONG AS 50 YEARS.

BOUND: RAJU’S CHAINS, SEEN UP CLOSE ABOVE, TOOK 45 MINUTES FOR RESCUERS TO DISENTANGLE.

The Elephants Raju has joined have also suffered horrendously before they were rescued by the charity.

The second most recent member of the herd is eighteen-year-old female Laxmi, saved from the streets of Mumbai ten months ago. Although she was young, she suffered from severe arthritis, obesity and a heart condition.

Mr Satyanarayan said: ‘She’d been exploited and used as a begging prop, she was neglected and her owners had got her addicted to fried junk food.

‘When we saved her she was 1,200 kilos overweight and so fat we had to use a crane to get her onto a specially-strengthened truck to drive her to our centre. She was so huge her knees were giving way and she had early arthritis.

‘Our vets were concerned that she would not live much longer if she was not rescued immediately. But she has a great, if mischievous, character – even on the drive home her trunk kept sneaking through the window and she was searching in the driver’s pockets for a treat.

‘We have spent the last 10 months rehabilitating her – and at first it was a battle to get her to eat the food she should be eating. Now she’s finally getting healthier, leaner and enjoying being a free Elephant.

‘But although Wildlife SOS was given legal custody of her by the Forest Department, her previous cruel owners are petitioning the courts to get her back and so  now we are in a court battle to stop her being returned to the abusive situation we rescued her from.’

MIDNIGHT RAID: WILDLIFE SOS FOUNDER KARTICK SATYANARAYAN BREAKING RAJU FREE FROM CAPTIVITY.

Chanchal, 16, was rescued on June 29, 2012, on the outskirts of Delhi after she and a second Elephant were hit by a speeding truck.

The second Elephant was killed instantly and Chanchal was left with cuts, shards of glass and wounds all over her body as well as a severely injured leg. She was undernourished and her owners were arrested for negligence.

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 a circus Elephant who was rescued after she was made to perform for years with a broken right rear leg.

Mr Satyanarayan said: ‘She still has a terrible limp where the break was never treated – the fracture was severe and when we rescued her she’d suffered for years in pain as it was never allowed to heal as they never allowed her to rest.’

ROAD TO FREEDOM: RAJU WAS TAKEN TO THE SANCTUARY IN MATHURA, NORTHERN INDIA, IN THIS TRUCK.

Finally Phoolkali, who is blind in one eye was smuggled illegally for years before the charity was alerted to her plight and immediately stepped in to rescue her.

Mr Satyanarayan said: ‘Phoolkali had spent more than 40 years of her life doing hard labour, being abused and being underfed. And her maltreatment and severe abuse by her previous owners caused her to be blinded in one eye.

‘Her owner would hide her in a windowless, deserted warehouse. Her owner would smuggle her across state borders in the dead of night to avoid detection by the authorities as he has no valid documentation for her legal possession.

‘She was frail and scrawny and almost skeletal in appearance and covered in sores and wounds.

‘Now she loves throwing mud on herself immediately after a long bath – much to the annoyance of her keeper – and also throws mud on him when he isn’t paying attention.’

YEARS TO RECOVER: THE HEAD OF WILDLIFE SOS SAID THAT IT TAKES YEARS TO RECOVER FROM RAJU’S DECADES-LONG ORDEAL.

Today the nightmare for Raju and his herd is a distant memory. And they are also enjoying a rehabilitation pool thanks to the generosity of donors to the centre.

Mr Satyanarayan said: :We are overwhelmed by the generosity of people from so many countries around the globe. We hope that if the donations continue, better facilities can be established for Raju and the other Elephants at the Centre who all deserve a better life to make up for the abuse they suffered all these years.

‘When we rescued him, Raju had never been in a pool before – and now he spends hours relaxing inside it. We’d like to thank everyone who donated – every penny has made such a difference to the quality of his life.

‘And while the pool is immensely pleasurable for him, it also is helping his rehabilitation as the water’s buoyancy enables him to take the weight off his legs which are incredibly painful from years of being shackled.

‘He still faces years of treatment to heal both the physical and psychological wounds. And sadly he’s not alone. We have a dossier of 80 Elephants whose life is in imminent peril and they also need to be rescued before they die of cruelty, exhaustion and abuse.’

Mr Satyanarayan said: ‘Our hope is that along with Raju, we can rescue many more of these tragic cases before it’s too late for them. It will enable them to taste freedom for the first time in their lives and live out their days in dignity, free from suffering and pain.’

RAJU’S ONE YEAR WITH NO TEARS!

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Chained, Beaten, Whipped And Exploited Like Slaves: The Hidden Horrors Meted Out To India’s Temple Elephants!

Originally published in The Independent.

They are the country’s icon – but behind the dazzle of religious festivals, these giants of the wild are painfully abused in Kerala.

When Audrey Gaffney first read about Raju, an Elephant kept in chains with spikes embedded in his ankles, she couldn’t stop the tears pouring down her face. “In fact, I cried again and again: I found over the next few days I just couldn’t get this story out of my head, I couldn’t stop thinking about Raju,” she recalls.

“I couldn’t believe the cruelty of my race.”

The young Elephant had been snatched from his family, she explains – his mother either would have been killed or spent weeks searching and crying for him – and he was beaten into submission. Raju then spent the next 50 years forced by his handler to beg in the street, starved, frightened and suffering infected wounds to his flesh. By the time of his rescue, he had resorted to eating plastic and paper.

Going on to discover that Raju was just one of thousands of Elephants treated this way in India, Ms Gaffney, a single mother from Liverpool, was spurred into becoming an activist for the first time. In the four years since, she says, her life has changed beyond recognition as she dropped her wariness of social media and teamed up with other volunteers working to raise awareness of the horrors to which the temple Elephants of India are subjected.

Taken from their families in the wild, shackled, beaten, whipped and exploited like slaves, these Elephants – ironically India’s icons – are painted and dressed in colourful decorations, to be paraded in regular festivals and processions organised by religious temples.

They are the world’s forgotten Elephant victims of mankind. While the world has focused on the threat of extinction to Africa’s Elephants caused by the ivory poaching crisis and the cruelty of tourist Elephant rides in Thailand and Cambodia, the plight of their captive counterparts in India has remained largely hidden from public gaze.

Fed the wrong diets, Kerala’s Elephants suffer malnourishment (Action for Elephants UK)

Photographs and videos posted online have shown how, away from the glitz of the festivals, these sensitive, intelligent and naturally sociable creatures are tied to the spot by ropes or chains that eat into their skin and inflict agonising injuries to their legs; they are hit with metal rods or bull-hooks – sharp tools – and “trained” with punishments to hold their heads high.

When the six-month festival season begins in December, they are forced to walk for miles in searing heat on hot, stinging tar roads and ridden into processions noisy with crowds and fireworks – terrifying for a creature whose home is the forest. While still shackled in chains they are made to run races or carry people and are subjected to “painful and unnatural” “head-lifting” competitions.

Some Elephants are carted from one festival to another – in some cases hundreds of miles – and despite suffering sometimes infected wounds from the chains, are ridden in searing temperatures by people who apparently see no harm in what they do.

The southern coastal state of Kerala has the highest number of festival Elephants, about 500 out of 3,500-4,000 across the country. Action for Elephants UK (AfE) brands Kerala “ground zero for elephant torture” and has called their illegal treatment “the worst case of animal cruelty in the world”. The plight of the 150 captive elephants in neighbouring Tamil Nadu is feared to be just as BAD.

Footage posted by local group Kerala Suffering Elephants (KSE) reveals how an Elephant named Gurvayur Nandan was paraded at a festival until dawn, before being transported for eight hours standing on the back of a truck in the scorching sun for eight hours without rest to a separate event that ran until midnight.

Malnourished and deprived of medical care, captive individuals of the endangered species rarely survive this “unrelenting neglect and torture” for a natural lifespan. The mortality rate in Kerala is shocking: 58 have died in 27 months, and already in 2018, 12 have succumbed, according to KSE. In seven years, the death toll is 350. “There could be no more damning proof of the hellish conditions and treatment meted out to these Elephants,” says Maria Mossman, founder of AfE.

Elephants are shackled in heavy chains that wound the flesh (Action for Elephants UK

For all the abuse, injuries and mental torment, it’s not the pain or infections that usually kills them early, it’s “intestinal impactions”: a blocked colon caused by being fed the wrong diet and insufficient quantities of water. The condition means they die “a miserable and painful” early death.

Campaigners have had enough. Gathering outside the Indian High Commission in London, they staged a protest to draw the attention of the New Delhi government and the world at large to the animals’ plight. Wearing large Elephant masks and waving placards, they came from a variety of backgrounds; some had travelled hundreds of miles to be there.

What unites these women – and yes, the campaigners are nearly all women – is a shared abhorrence of the “abuse and torture”. They adamantly deny attempting to interfere with religious culture.

“Temple Elephants are not part of any tradition,” explains Ms Mossman.

Their use in temples and festivals is not part of Indian culture, nor do Hindu scriptures anywhere say that Elephants should be used in temple rituals. On the contrary, the barbaric treatment of these elephants goes completely against the core beliefs of Hinduism”

In fact, the cruelty behind Kerala’s rituals is thought to have begun about a century ago as India’s nouveaux riches started to buy Elephants to flaunt their wealth. Denise Dresner, a co-organiser of AfE, recalls the heart-wrenching moment that opened her eyes to the scale of the problem: “In 2013 I saw a video by Peta of Sunder the temple Elephant being beaten. This was something I’d never witnessed before.

“An Elephant was on its side on the ground, struggling to get up. His feet were shackled and he was being beaten violently by several men, over and over again. He kept struggling, unable to get away from the blows raining down on him. I learned later he had been kept in a dark shed and beaten incessantly for seven years.

“That moment of seeing him being beaten and tortured was seared into my brain and heart. It’s an image that will never leave me, one that shows the extremes of human violence and brutality towards other living beings. The unspeakable cruelty perpetrated on these majestic, sentient and highly intelligent creatures must end.”

For Maria Harper, another protester, it’s the duration of the suffering that is worst. “What upset me most was when I realised the length of time the temple and festival Elephants suffer,” she says.

“They can endure cruelty and abuse for more than 50 years – if they are unfortunate enough to survive that long. It’s a life sentence”

Seeing the photos and hearing the accounts is harrowing. But Ms Mossman says it’s vital if their welfare is to improve. “The world needs to know how handlers use banned weapons and restrain them with heavy shackles, often tightened so severely that they cut through the flesh, causing raw bleeding wounds that are seldom treated. “They are often forced to stand in the same position 24/7, in their own urine and excrement, suffering from foot rot. They are beaten and tortured time and again.”

Some mahouts think nothing of whipping an Elephant to make it bend to his will, such as climbing into a truck. But the abuse doesn’t end there.

Most of Kerala’s captive Elephants are bulls. When they enter their annual musth – mating season – their testosterone levels and energy surge, so the mahouts tighten their shackles further until the creatures are unable to move. In addition, food and water are restricted to weaken them.

But then comes the cruellest torture yet. Several men, often drunken, beat the chained Elephant for up to 72 hours relentlessly. The practice is based on a superstitious belief that the Elephants may have forgotten their commands during their musth, and is designed to break the Elephant’s spirit, “reminding him that his masters are in control”.

All bull Elephants in Kerala undergo this horror every year.

These practices are banned by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 and the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, but campaigners point out that the laws are routinely ignored.

Elephants are paraded with no ownership papers or parade certificates, or with fake fitness certificates, breaking the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, which says they cannot be exploited for profit, AfE says. Recent laws banning the use of disabled, sick or pregnant elephants in festivals are also ignored.

“The plight of these Elephants is arguably the worst case of animal abuse in the world. The suffering that temple Elephants endure is unimaginable”

“India has very good laws, but they are ignored daily and the abusers go unpunished,” says Ms Mossman. “Not only are Elephants intelligent and sentient beings, they are an endangered species. It is the duty not only of India to enforce the laws to protect them, but of the world to hear their cries of suffering and respond to end the brutality against them.”

She and KSE agree that making profits and keeping the status quo are at the root of the problem. “These sentient animals are seen only as commodities, earning huge sums of money for their owners and the temples,” says Ms Mossman. “Exploited under the veneer of culture and religion, they are big business. Everyone, from the chief minister downwards, has a stake.”

The 3,000 temples that rent out Elephants to festival organisers are run by four devaswom (socio-religious trusts), appointed by the state government, and each temple earns many millions of rupees from festivals.

Any Elephant that makes it beyond 60 is purposely neglected and abused – treated as a disposable item – so the owners can make hefty insurance claims, according to AfE.

Sangita Iyer, who was born and raised in Kerala and made an award-winning 2016 film, Gods in Shackles, revealing what goes on behind the scenes at the festivals, is convinced greed is to blame.

“Elephants are allowed to die so the owners can receive the pay-outs. There’s a whole insurance industry surrounding this, in which the owners and brokers make the most profit.”

A dead tusker that suffered intestinal blockages is covered with a cloth. Most captive elephants die young after years of pain (Action for Elephants UK)

According to India’s Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, which in 2014 petitioned the Supreme Court of India to order better conditions for the animals, another factor is young men showing off. “Today’s mahouts are in it for the glamour and the thrill. Unlike the mahouts of the old, who learnt the ways of handling the Elephants over time, these guys know only oppression and violence,” one rescuer says.

Nor does Ms Iyer particularly blame festival-goers. “Most people are unaware of the crushing burden these Elephants carry, in the literal sense, on their backs, and in their hearts and souls. Most people don’t realise the brutality that these sentient beings undergo to entertain them. They are so hypnotised by the majestic, ornate Elephants and lost in their own selfish world that they don’t even look at the raw bleeding ankles.”

However bad the suffering of the individuals, the abuse has wider repercussions. KSE warns it could even lead to the extinction of Indian Elephants.

“As each of these Elephants die from overwork, intestinal impactions etc, the surviving ones are going to be overworked even more. It’s a vicious cycle and will probably end only when there are no Elephants left”

Taking young Elephants from the wild has a serious impact on wild Elephant populations in India and elsewhere, activists fear. People’s lives, too, are being put at risk. Some elephants, driven frantic by their suffering, break free and run amok. Behind media reports of people being killed by a rampaging Elephant there almost always lies a story of a brutalised animal.

There have also been 300 incidents of Elephants running amok in the first three months of this year. Earlier this month there were unconfirmed reports of Elephants running amok at festivals in Ernakulam and Kollam districts. Unofficial counts put it at 20 incidents in one week.

Action for Elephants is warning prime minister Narendra Modi these rituals are not just harming the country’s most iconic wildlife, but also India’s multi-million-pound tourism industry and reputation. “We hope tourists and visitors to India will make ethical choices and will shun all forms of Elephant tourism that use elephants in any unnatural way, whether in festivals or for trekking or rides or any other purpose,” a statement by the group says.

“In this day and age, when we have gained so much knowledge about the intelligence, emotional capacity, and social bonds of these majestic creatures, and when we know how endangered they are, we believe that all countries have a duty to protect them, treat them humanely, and give them sanctuary.”

India is positioned to take a global lead in ethical wildlife tourism, the letter says.

As long as the current system of cruelty is allowed to continue, the more it will negatively impact India’s tourism and tarnish India’s reputation and image in the world

Signatories include primatologist Jane Goodall, TV star Michael Palin, author Jilly Cooper, TV presenter Anneka Svenska and radio presenter Nicky Campbell, as well as MP Zac Goldsmith.

Filmmaker Ms Iyer believes educating the public is the only way to achieve change. “Ignorance and arrogance make for a bad potion, and unless and until we are able to create attitude shifts in the public eye, there’s little hope for these sentient beings.

“There is no point in fighting the owners or brokers. Enlightening the people is the only way to stop the audience from participating in festivals that use live Elephants and reduce demand for such cultural festivals. When the demand dies down, the Elephants will be ultimately phased out.”

The Indian High Commission in London did not respond to a request by The Independent to comment and refused to send anybody to open the door when visited in person.

There are some glimmers of hope, however. Occasionally, news of progress made by welfare workers on the ground emerges, and an elephant rescue can become a stand-out memory for followers. The film that startled Ms Gaffney was called Raju the Elephant Cried on the Day he was Released from Chains. His rescue made headlines.

Ms Dresner says she followed each step in a protracted legal case to free Sunder with her heart in her throat. “Finally, when he was freed, the joy was overwhelming. Like so many others, I then followed his progress in his new home at Bannerghatta Biological Park, crying (happily) with every bit of good news: his healing leg, his first swim in the pond, his making new friends, his putting weight on his skeletal frame.”

Fellow demonstrator Joanne Smith agrees. “The terrible delays with the court case were so hard to take but the day Sunder was given his freedom was thrilling,” she recalls. “It proved to me that we can make a difference with hard work and determination.”

In the past two years, three temples have done away with renting Elephants for festivals. One used mechanical stand-in; another used an 8ft dummy made of plaster of Paris and bamboo. Organisers say they may even offer the model to neighbouring temples for their own festivals, allowing the idea to catch on.

The London protest and letter also have the support of Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley, whose message was: “One of the most influential Indians of all time, Mahatma Gandhi, said: ‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.’

“India! Listen to his words and implement them. The world supports your laws against cruelties to temple Elephants, but only you can ensure that they are enforced.”

And that, say campaigners, really would be worth a celebration.

Gods In Shackles

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