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As we’ve learned in the past, it doesn’t get much sadder than seeing an elephant cry.

Unless that elephant just got set free after 50 years of painful captivity.

Such is the case for Raju, an animal who had been held in spiked chains, often beaten or otherwise abused until the organization Wildlife SOS conducted a midnight rescue mission to save the elephant from the Uttar Pradesh area in India.

In darkness on July 4, a group of veterinarians and wildlife experts freed Raju from his horrible existence, watching in awe and heartbreak as the creature cried tears of joy at the scene.

"Raju has spent the past 50 years living a pitiful existence in chains 24 hours a day, an act of intolerable cruelty," Wildlife SOS spokesperson Pooja Binepal said. "The team were astounded to see tears roll down his face during the rescue. It was so incredibly emotional for all of us. We knew in our hearts he realized he was being freed."


Binepal believes Raju had been poached as a young calf and sold as a tourist attraction.

He lived without regular shelter, only eating what pedestrians passing by would give him.

"The chains around his legs had spikes which were cutting into his flesh – and each time he moved pus would ooze out of wounds. Pain and brutality were all he knew. His cruel handler even tore out the hair from his tail to sell as good luck charms," Binepal says. "The exploitation and abuse just had to stop."

Wildlife SOS brought Raju 350 miles away to the charity’s Elephant Conservation and Care Centre at Mathura.

He was fed there, given a bath and he now “knows what freedom is,” Pooja says. “He will learn what kindness feels like and what it’s like to not suffer any more."

Once Raju is rehabilitated, he will join two other elephants the charity has saved, living out his days in peace and happiness.

Says Binepal: "We all had tears in our eyes as the last rope, which held the final spike, was cut – and Raju took his first steps of freedom."