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After Decades of Mistreatment, Elephant Cries During Rescue

Updated: Friday, July 11 2014, 02:33 PM EDT

The story of a chained elephant, crying as he was rescued, has gone viral. They appeared to be tears of joy as he tasted freedom

The 50-year-old elephant, named Raju, now bobs his head relentlessly. His caretakers say it's a sign of the trauma he's had to endure, shackled and abused for five decades.

Even though he's now in a safe house with almost a dozen other rescued elephants, they say he's not quite sure how to react to his new surroundings. Raju is still very uncomfortable with human beings. The rescuers say he was poached and sold on and on, and may have had up to 27 owners.

All his life Raju was forced to work as a begging prop for his owners -- sometimes he would be rented out for Indian weddings.

To keep him under control, his owners allegedly starved and beat him.

After investigating Raju's case for more than a year, Kartick Satyanarayan and his team from Wildlife SOS rescued Raju last week. A team of 10 wildlife experts and 30 enforcement officers entered his enclosure, on the side of the road, in the middle of the night.

Images of what happened next have gone viral: huge tears rolled down the sides of his face as he was rescued, in an 8-hour operation.

"It was a very emotional moment and our vet doctor who is by far the most scientific person in the our group said you know you can't say those tears have nothing to do with pain initially, and then he said you know it looks like he understands that we are here to help him," Satyanarayan said.

Wildlife SOS has rescued thousands of animals including 11 elephants. Those who've been rehabilitated walk around freely. Some 3000 elephants remain in captivity though, in India alone.

After Decades of Mistreatment, Elephant Cries During Rescue


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