Imagine spending your whole life in shackles, both mental and physical – never being allowed to exit the length of the chain that binds you, never allowed to roam freely under the open skies and most importantly, never even knowing your family for decades and decades. Now imagine being poked with spikes every time you take a step, having small strips of skin gouged each time you put a foot forward. Nobody notices your agony; on the contrary it is encouraged as it helps keep you in control. This was Raju’s life for over five decades.
Fifty long years of ill-treatment and abuse had turned this majestic pachyderm into a husk of his former self, as he trudged the narrow streets of India without respite from the forces of nature or his own cruel master. As a young elephant, Raju had been snatched from his herd and put through the process of ‘Phajaan’, an undeniably tortuous procedure of breaking his spirit and body.
As the love and kindness he experienced with his herd completely disappeared from his life and neglect and indifference became the reigning forces behind it, little was Raju to know that the first kind hands to touch and feed him would only arrive in his life after decades. Far from being noticed as a sentient being with feelings, Raju was only treated as a money-making machine, an investment, changing hands many times over the decades, yet not knowing a single, kind master over the years. Raju had given up fighting too, he had become convinced that the few feet of freedom his chains offered were the best he could ever get.
However, lady luck soon smiled upon Raju, as Wildlife SOS was able to offer a ray of hope for the tired elephant in 2014. His story spread like wildfire, as his pitiable condition, emaciated and bony frame, and visible trauma inflamed minds across the world. As the midnight of 4th of July approached, Raju’s freedom was orchestrated in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. His first moments of freedom are forever immortalized on film, as his chains were removed in the dead of the night by the WSOS team. A a new dawn approached, he took his first steps into freedom at the Elephant Conservation & Care Centre in Mathura.
Today, six years later, Raju is practically unrecognisable! As he undertook his healing journey with us at Wildlife SOS, each day was better than the previous one as his true nature bubbled to the surface.
At the moment, Raju is undergoing treatment for his chronic hip abscess that has shown remarkable improvement, according to the veterinarians. The abscess is regularly cleaned and dressed with antiseptic ointment to aid healing. He is not given any oral medication presently but is receiving medicated foot baths with turmeric and Epsom salt that help in the healing of his delicate foot pads and gives much relief to him. He enjoys his relaxing baths which his keeper is extremely particular about, as he carefully scrubs behind his ears and washes his toes. However, what Raju enjoys the most after his bath is his glorious mud baths – mud acts as a natural sunscreen for elephants and protects them from the harsh rays of the sun, also acting as a barrier from the direct sunlight.
Of the many enrichments installed in his enclosure, the cage-feeder is his favourite. His keeper always ensure that it is full of sugarcanes and watermelons as well as apples which he thoroughly enjoys munching on. The hanging haynet feeder in his enclosure has 10 kgs of green fodder with jaggery and dates that Raju enjoys picking out from as his dexterous trunk makes its way through the haynet! He is also on a diet of cooked concentrate which is full of delicious condiments like garlic, ginger and turmeric, essential in building immunity and core strength.
Raju in the pool is a relaxed and fun-loving elephant, almost making up for the lost time of his childhood and his younger days. He spends an hour daily in his pool. Raju completely immerses himself in the pool, his trunk lightly hanging on the corner reassuring us that he is having a great time.
For this special occasion, and as a part of his celebration, our co-founder Kartick Satyanarayan got on a video chat with Raju and his keeper, as he could not be by his side due to the restrictions on travel within the country due to the pandemic. Being unable to be personally present with Raju on this momentous occasion, Kartick ensured that he caught up with the majestic pachyderm that he is so fond of, to pass on his love and wishes for the elephant’s good health. As a treat, Raju was also provided a special treat of delicously ripe watermelons and his love for the fruit drove him to gorge over 160 kilograms of the fruit! As if that was not enough, Raju’s keeper pampered him with watermelon while he was splashing about in his pool! Talk about pampered indulgence! But knowing his history, nobody could say no to our dear Raju. He enjoyed all these treats in bliss, completely oblivious to the attention lavished on him as he devoured the fruits quickly and meticulously.
We are beyond delighted that his life has taken a turn for the better, and that we had a major part to play in it. Raju’s progress shows that love is an incredibly powerful force and so is determination. Raju’s determination to heal and our love and hope for him to heal completely have been a pivotal point in his recovery. It is a future that only gets better from here.
Happy sixth Rescueversary, Raju!