After fifty long years of being chained and leading a life of suffering, Raju was freed in the early hours of the morning on 4th July 2014 by Wildlife SOS, a Delhi based NGO. For the first time after five decades, he is having his first day of freedom. It is an interesting coincidence that 4th July happens to be America’s independence day!
Raju is a 50 year old makna (tuskless male) bull elephant who has lived all his life in chains with very little to eat. Not much is known about Raju’s early years but we conclude that he was possibly poached from the forest as a young calf and then sold to several people, one after the other, all his life. All through this, he was subjected to daily abuse and beatings to ‘discipline’ him for a life of begging so his owner could make a profit from him. Wildlife SOS investigation indicates that he was traded as a commodity every one to two years of his life and even dragged to the Sonpur elephant fair in Bihar where elephants are illegally traded under the guise of exhibition.
The Uttar Pradesh Forest Department informed Wildlife SOS about Raju’s plight a year ago after which it took a year to get the necessary paperwork and permits including a court order to initiate steps to rescue and rehabilitate Raju. Dr Rupak De, IFS – Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden of Uttar Pradesh State said “ We are very happy that this elephant will have a better life after so many decades of suffering. The Forest Department is thankful to Wildlife SOS for their cooperation and for taking immediate action to rescue the elephant.”
Divisional Director, Social Forestry Department, Mathura Forest Division, Mr. Mahaveer, IFS said- “Elephants are protected species under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and the forest department will not tolerate any violation of law. This elephant has suffered from last 50 years and we are glad that Wildlife SOS stepped forward and rescued Raju. Today Raju is under specialized medical care and attention of veterinary experts and we are certain he will recover soon. “
Once court orders were secured, Wildlife SOS deployed a rescue team from the Elephant Conservation and Care Center in Mathura (ECCC). This ECCC established by Wildlife SOS in collaboration with the U.P.Forest Department in Mathura (about 45 minutes from the Taj Mahal) also happens to be India’s first and only chain free elephant care center where modern management techniques such as protected contact and positive reinforcement are used.
The Wildlife SOS ten member Elephant Rescue Team comprising of a specialized wildlife veterinarian Dr.Yaduraj who led the operation accompanied by 4 elephant keepers, para veterinarians, emergency staff and a wildlife biologist arrived in Allahabad armed with tranquilizing equipment, medicines and rescue gear to help rescue and move Raju to his new home at the ECCC in Mathura. The DFO Allahabad and about 20 forest officers facilitated the rescue operation which started at 630 PM on 3 July and ended at 1 minute past midnight on 4th July.
A special ten wheel truck was arranged to transport Raju who was gently loaded on the truck and driven with the veterinary team keeping him hosed down with cool water to prevent dehydration through the 16 hour journey. During his ride Raju was given delicious fruit treats like bananas, jack fruit, mangoes to keep his energy levels up. Raju’s rescue truck was a part of a convoy of vehicles including a pilot vehicle from Wildlife SOS and Forest Department vehicles.
Kartick Satyanarayan, Co-Founder Wildlife SOS said, “We had to step in and act quickly as we were certain that Raju’s life was in grave danger if he did not receive immediate veterinary treatment and emergency care. We are very grateful to the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department and the Chief Wildlife Warden Dr.Rupak De who was very prompt in facilitating the rescue of Raju in a timely manner.”
At his new home, Raju will no longer be abused with spikes or beatings and will have his own enclosure to walk in freely sans chains with access to a fresh water pool. He will also have the company of seven other elephants.
Dr. Yaduraj Khadpekar, Wildlife SOS veterinarian who led the rescue operation to bring Raju said, “We were determined to save Raju’s life. There were many unforeseen obstacles because of which there were delays and we had to tread carefully. It was a complicated rescue operation. I am very glad that we were able to successfully rescue Raju. He requires a lot of extensive vet care and it will take a long time to restore his health”
Wildlife SOS co-founder- Geeta Seshamani said, ” As we watched we quickly realized we had to act as quickly as possible as his situation was so desperate and the cruelty so extreme so we decided to move the rescue forward by a day. The chains around his legs had spikes which were cutting into his flesh – and each time he moved pus would ooze out of wounds. 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. The exploitation and abuse just had to stop.”
When Raju stepped out of his truck and took his first step to freedom at one minute past midnight on July 4th, the other seven rescued elephants at the Wildlife SOS Elephant care Center awoke from their sleep to come and meet their new friend. After a drink of fresh cool water to welcome Raju in his new home he was given a buffet spread of mangoes, jackfruit, bananas and a special treat of biscuits before Wildlife SOS vet Dr Yaduraj Khadpekar began the painstaking process of removing his chains and spiked shackles.
Dr.Yaduraj said “The next six months with Raju will be very challenging due to his past history of cruelty that was inflicted on him. We are confident that he will soon recover and have a healthy and happy life ahead – something that he deserved a long time ago!”