Meet Raju the elephant. For the past 50 years, Raju was living in a nightmare of cruelty and suffering in Allahabad, India. He was poached when he was a young calf and cycled through many abusive owners throughout his life. His current owners kept him bound in spiked chains that made every step painful and caused him chronic flesh wounds. He was beaten regularly, and his owners forced him to spend his days in the hot sun begging for coins with his trunk from tourists passing by. The only meals he received were scraps from the passing tourists.

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Raju in chains the night of his rescue. Photo (c) Wildlife SOS

Little did Raju know that his life was about to change when wildlife conservationists staged a midnight operation to rescue Raju from his misery. Wildlife SOS, an NGO that defends endangered wildlife in India, was tipped off about Raju’s situation by India’s Forestry Commission. Just past midnight on July 4th, representatives from Wildlife SOS and a group of vets, wildlife experts and policemen were successful in rescuing the elephant. The same day Americans were celebrating the USA’s independence, Raju was taking his first steps of freedom.

Raju wept tears of joy as the vets removed the spiked chains. Coincidentally, the same day Americans were celebrating the USA’s independence, Raju felt freedom for the first time in decades.

“The team [was] astounded to see tears roll down his face during the rescue,” Wildlife SOS spokesperson Pooja Binepal said in an interview with The Mirror. “It was so incredibly emotional for all of us. We knew in our hearts he realized he was being freed. Elephants are not only majestic, but they are highly intelligent animals, who have been proven to have feelings of grief, so we can only imagine what torture half a century has been like for him.”

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Wildlife SOS vet, Dr. Yaduraj, carefully removes Raju’s spikes. Photo (c) Wildlife SOS

According to Nikki Sharp, executive director of Wildlife SOS-USA, “The vet and our team came with fruits and just started speaking softly to him and to reassure him that we were there to help, and it was at that time that tears flooded down his face,” she told The Huffington Post. “It was an emotional moment and everyone was more motivated to get him on the truck and to safety.”

They took Raju straight to the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre in Mathura, India. Wildlife SOS team is taking steps to help Raju acclimate to his newfound freedom. He’ll be undergoing physical rehabilitation and slowly be introduced to other rescued elephants at the center.

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Raju walks freely at the Elephant Conservation and Care Center. Photo (c) Wildlife SOS

Wildlife SOS vet Dr.Yaduraj Khadpekar says “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!”

Visit the Wildlife SOS Blog to learn more about Raju’s journey to freedom. You can also donate to help cover Raju’s expenses.