Raju, the elephant who cried, made headlines last week when he was freed after 50 years in captivity, but he is just the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to India’s booming animal slave trade.
Nikki Sharp, U.S. Director of Wildlife SOS, posits that as many as 3000 animals are held captive in India. In many cases, they are bound in chains, just as Raju was. “There are more animals in chains here than the whole of Asia combined,” Sharp said while speaking to News.com.au, adding that “These animals are usually beaten in some belief it will break their spirit.”
— Yahoo UK News (@YahooNewsUK) July 11, 2014
Raju was poached soon after he was born, according to CNN, and may have had as many as 27 owners in his 50 year lifetime. Like many elephants on the streets of India, he was used as a “begging prop,” and rented out for weddings and celebrations. Captive elephants are often beaten, and held in chains that look like they belong in a medieval torture chamber. At one point, Raju was even stabbed with a spear. According to Geeta Seshamani, a co-founder of Wildlife SOS, the point of such brutal treatment is “to show the elephant who’s boss.”
Far from unusual, the treatment that Raju and other elephants receive is part of the status quo in India, and perfectly legal. High levels of corruption, combined with a lack of enforceable laws to protect elephants, mean that rescues like Raju’s are the exception rather than the rule. Sharp points out that last year, an injured elephant named Bijlee collapsed in the streets of Mumbai, after working for 50 years straight. “Hundreds of thousands of people walked by her and no one had raised a hand to help her,” Sharp said, adding that despite activists’ best efforts, the elephant died soon after being rescued.
El llanto de Raju al ser liberado, sorprendió a todos los presentes http://t.co/PLPjNxHmmO pic.twitter.com/QNp4jjNvur
— AM Querétaro (@am_queretaro) July 8, 2014
Lek Chailert, founder and owner of the Elephant Nature Park sanctuary in northern Thailand, said that despite her organization’s efforts, they are only able to rescue a handful of the elephants currently enslaved in her country:
“Most of the elephants that come here have been abused, overworked and broken physically. I’d say 80 per cent have mental problems, some don’t even know they are elephants anymore — they are zombies.”
Raju is currently rehabilitating at the Elephant Conservation and Care Center at Mathura, as The Inquisitr has previously reported, yet thousands of other elephants are still suffering in India’s animal slave trade. Her advice to westerners traveling in India is to support companies that engage in “ethical traveling policies,” and to be careful when supporting temples, circuses, or mahouts that offer elephant services.
“If this photo (of Raju crying) makes you cringe,” she said, “take it off your bucket list.”
[Image via MailOnline]