Raju, the elephant whose tears of relief touched the hearts of millions after over 50 years of abuse and captivity, has been officially declared free from his previous owners.
The elephant had been suffering in spiked shackles, begging for coins from passers-by in Uttar Pradesh, India, and living off plastic and paper scraps.
A team of veterinarians, wildlife experts, forestry officers, and policemen took part in a daring rescue operation in July led by the British charity Wildlife SOS. However, Raju’s future was uncertain when his former owners initiated a legal battle, claiming him as their “rightful property.”
After a series of hearings, an Indian court ruled in favor of Wildlife SOS, ensuring Raju’s safety and freedom. The charity’s founder, Kartick Satyanarayan, expressed immense joy and relief, emphasizing that this victory was significant for all elephants enduring silent suffering.
In court, Wildlife SOS’s lawyers successfully argued that under Indian law, elephants could not be privately owned, as they are considered property of the government. As Raju’s former owners failed to produce the required certificate from the Chief Wildlife Warden, the case was dismissed.
Nikki Sharp, Wildlife SOS executive director, expressed gratitude for the ruling, which ensures that Raju will never return to the abusive life he once knew. The elephant has started to settle in, make friends, and trust people at the charity’s sanctuary.
Raju’s rescue was part of a larger effort by Wildlife SOS to save elephants from abusive situations. The charity believes Raju was likely poached from his mother as a calf and sold multiple times throughout his life, with as many as 27 different owners. When the team found Raju in 2013, he was in a severely neglected and abused state.
Since then, Raju’s medical treatment has cost over £40,000, as his legs and feet were severely damaged from years of abuse. He experienced unimaginable cruelty, including the removal of tail hair to be sold as good luck charms.
Now, Wildlife SOS has launched a campaign to save the remaining 67 performing circus elephants in India. The charity relies on public donations to help these animals live their lives with dignity and free from pain.