By Bindu Shajan Perappadan
The gentle giant Raju, who made headlines across the globe when he cried as he was freed from chains after 50 years, earlier this year, is now facing the threat of being returned to his old life in shackles.
The elephant’s former owner has launched a legal battle to win him back, said an official release issued by Wildlife SOS, a non government organisation working for the rescue, rehabilitation and welfare of animals.
Raju is currently housed at the Wildlife SOS’s Elephant Conservation and Care Center in Agra.
Raju’s story first came to light in July this year when a Delhi-based charity Wildlife SOS India rescued him in a daring midnight operation in Allahabad with a ten-strong team of vets and wildlife experts along with 20 Forest Department and Police officers who seized Raju from near the Minto Park area in Allahabad.
“But in a cruel twist of fate, Raju is at the centre of a bitter legal battle as his ex-owner, who forced him to beg from tourists, has launched a bid to reclaim him,’’ said Wildlife SOS founder Kartick Satyanarayan.
“His owner is arguing that Raju is his property, which must be returned to him for his use. The thought of him being forced back to a life in chains is just horrific,’’ he added.
Wildlife SOS is starting a ‘Raju legal fund’ that will help fund the legal battles to protect Raju and elephants like him that suffer in silence.
“We are now anxiously awaiting our first court hearing in Allahabad, next week on September 4 to find out the fate of Raju,’’ said Mr. Satyanarayan. “We want this case to set a precedent across India to change the way elephants are treated and abusers are punished and justice prevails for these magnificent creatures that suffer in silence.’’
Dr. Rupak De, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and chief wildlife warden of Uttar Pradesh, said: ``Necessary action has been initiated and the law will take its course. Raju is in safe hands with Wildlife SOS and the Forest Department will make sure that justice prevails.’’
Speaking about Raju’s case, Mr Satyanarayan said that the elephant’s case is particularly tragic. ``We believe he was 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 from dawn until dusk or being used for giving tourists joy rides. And most heartrendingly – the chains that cut into his legs had been there for 50 years. It was horrific,’’ said Mr. Satyanarayan.
Meanwhile, at his new home Raju’s life has transformed and he now has a `family’ of his own called the Herd of Hope which consists of a group of rescued elephants.