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Indian Court Says Elephant Who Was Chained For 50 Years Is Free

Raju the elephant, who appeared to shed tears last July when he was freed from his shackles after 50 years, will be allowed to remain with his rescuers, an Indian court has ruled.

[A warning: The video that we've linked to in the preceding paragraph has some disturbing images.]

"WE WON!!" Wildlife SOS said in a statement on its Facebook page. "Raju will be staying with us! We are so grateful to all of you who spoke out on his behalf, and who supported him from afar."

The group had rescued the elephant over the summer from a park in the northern city of Allahabad. News reports at the time said he had been poached from the wild as a calf. He reportedly was eating plastic and paper to survive. The Independent newspaper noted that "[t]he chains and spikes wrapped around his legs had left him with chronic wounds and arthritis and he was in almost constant pain."

Raju's owner and mahout, the man who rode him, tried unsuccessfully to prevent his rescue. The elephant had been with Wildlife SOS since then — and appeared to be enjoying himself, as can be seen from this tweet from the organization.

Wildlife SOS founder Kartick Satyanarayanan estimated that Raju had had 27 owners over 50 years.

"He's been treated as a commodity and beaten into accepting his new handler every two years," Satyanarayanan said at the time, according to The Hindu newspaper.

Soon after the rescue, Raju's former owner went to court, arguing that the elephant was his property. But the Allahabad High Court ruled Monday that the elephant must remain with his rescuers.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.