Raju, the Indian elephant that was kept in chains for 50 years and abused by a drug addict, has finally been declared free after his former owners lost a legal battle to take him back.
In early July, conservationists from the British charity Wildlife SOS made a daring rescue in the middle of the night to free Raju with the help of a court order by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department.
Raju had been beaten and starved since being poached from the wild as a baby and resorted to eating paper and plastic to fill his stomach.
The chains and spikes wrapped around his legs had left him with chronic wounds and arthritis and he was in almost constant pain.
The elephant's mahout and previous owner tried to stop him being taken by adding more chains and having people block the roads for the rescue lorry. He was eventually rescued on July 4; fittingly Independence Day.
However, two months later his former owners launched a legal battle to reclaim Ragu, arguing that he was their "rightful property".
Last night, after a series of hearings, an Indian court ruled that Raju must now stay with his rescuers and not return to the life he led for 50 years.
Founder Kartick Satyanarayan, who led the rescue to save Raju said: "We are beyond overjoyed that Raju is finally saved.
"This is a huge victory, not only for Raju, but for every elephant suffering in pain silently.
"When his former owners launched a legal bid to get him back it was unthinkable that he could return to the life he'd had begging on the streets in shackles.
"He had been so terribly brutalised for 50 years that we feared he’d be unable to live with his own kind. He didn't even know how to be an elephant. But now he’s joined our herd of rescued Indian elephants it’s like he’s always been with them."
Wildlife SOS argued in court that an elephant cannot be owned by someone under Indian law as they are all owned by the government, and that only a licence from the Chief Wildlife Warden is proof of ownership. According to Wildlife SOS, Raju's previous owners could not produce such a certificate.
Wildlife SOS executive director Nikki Sharp wrote: "This meant that Raju was finally truly free and there is no chance he will be returned to the shackles that chained him for 50 years."
When Raju was rescued in July, experts worked for hours to gain his trust with fruit and encouragement until they could get him into a van to take him away.
When Raju was being rescued, volunteers said they saw tears rolling down his face.
Pooja Binepal, from Wildlife SOS UK, said: "The team were astounded to see tears roll down his face during the rescue. It was so incredibly emotional for all of us.
"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."
According to Satyanarayan, the charity;s co-founder, his previous owner kept shouting at Raju to make him charge at his captors but the rescuers stood their ground.
Two days later, after 45 minutes, they were able to eventually free Raju from all of his chains.
The video above shows the moment they cut the painful spikes and chains binding the animal’s legs so he could walk freely for the first time.
Rescuers at Wildlife SOS believe Raju started life in the wild but was caught as a baby by poachers and sold as a working elephant.
He had almost 30 owners in his life but was found by the charity exactly a year before his rescue, working as a begging elephant on the streets of Allahabad.
His owner, a drug addict, would tell pilgrims at religious sites his elephant could "bless" them in exchange for money.
Raju’s tail was almost bare because the man had been ripping out hairs to sell tourists as a good luck charm for hundreds of rupees.
The elephant was covered in deep wounds from the spikes, as well as the spear used to discipline him and abscesses from his chains.
Wildlife SOS state that because Raju's legs were covered in absesses and his feet so damaged by walking on hard tarmac roads, they have spent £40,000 so far on his medical treatment.
They added, "We still have a long way to go as he has a serious limp and open wounds".
Wildlife SOS has also launched a Christmas campaign to save the last 67 performing circus elephants in India.
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