By Sarah Arnold, Richard Hartley-Parkinson
Raju the elephant was beaten, abused and forced to go hungry until animal charity workers rescued him last week
Raju the elephant who melted the hearts of people across the globe has finally found happiness after five decades of being chained up.
His tears of joy at being released from his shackles now appear to have turned into a smile as he met his new family and was given his first proper meal for a very long time.
Raju's first encounter came yesterday when he was introduced by volunteers at charity Wildlife SOS to Phoolkali in northern India.
Phoolkali, who is also a rescue elephant, shared her dinner of mangoes, jackfruit, bananas and biscuits with Raju.
She was discovered in a warehouse that did not have any windows and has since made a full recovery thanks to the efforts of workers at the Elephant Conservation and Care Cnetre in Mathura.
Raju was held in chains, beaten and abused for the last 50 years, with his legs in spiked shackles and relying on food given to him by tourists.
The Sunday People said that he was so hungry he would eat plastic and paper to fill his empty stomach.
But last week animal charity workers swooped to save him in a daring midnight rescue operation on the streets of India.
Some experts believe elephants cry when overcome with emotion, just like humans.
And Raju’s rescuers insist the giant animal wept as he realised his ordeal was coming to an end.
Pooja Binepal, of Wildlife SOS-UK, said: “Raju was in chains 24 hours a day, an act of intolerable cruelty. The team were astounded to see tears roll down his face during the rescue.
“It was incredibly emotional. We knew in our hearts he realised he was being freed.
“Elephants are majestic and highly intelligent animals. We can only imagine what torture the past half a century has been for him.
“Until we stepped in he’d never known what it is like to walk free of his shackles.
“But today he knows what freedom is and he will learn what kindness feels like.”
A 10-strong team of vets and wildlife experts from the charity, based in Palmers Green, North London, were joined at midnight on Thursday by 20 Forestry Commission officers and two policemen to rescue Raju.
The mission took place under cover of darkness to avoid detection and spare suffering Raju from the searing heat of the sun in the Uttar Pradesh region of India.
It had been exactly a year since the charity was alerted to this plight by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department.
A confiscation process had gone through the courts before Raju was seized.
Pooja explained: “Very little is known about his early years but we believe he was poached from his mother as a young calf.
“The poachers either slaughter mothers or they drive the herd into traps that are small enough only for the babies to fall into.
“The mother cries for her baby for days after he’s been stolen. It is a sickening trade.
"The calves are then tied and beaten until they submit to their owners. Their spirits are broken. More....