An elephant who has spent most of his life shackled in a temple has taken his first steps without chains in more than half a century.
The majestic animal, named Gajraj, has been a ‘temple elephant’ for most of his life, and was suffering from painful abscesses and partial blindness before he was rescued.
He had been kept as a tourist attraction at a temple in Satara, India, with the tips of his tusks hacked off and open sores where chains were clamped around his legs for decades.
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Majestic elephant Gajraj taking his first steps of freedom in 50 years after being chained up at a temple as a tourist attraction
Within moments of arriving at the WSOS Elephant Conservation & Care Center, Gajraj enjoyed a dust bath
The animal has been a ‘temple elephant’ for most of his life, and was suffering from painful abscesses and partial blindness before he was rescued
He was captured from the wild as a calf, beaten into submission, and has been chained, in one spot, at the Yami Devi Hindu temple in Aundh, Maharashtra, India, for nearly 58 years.
His owner, the Queen of Aundh, had been persuaded to surrender him, but still the ‘Gajraj freedom team’ of 12 – vets, drivers, mechanics and handlers – needed police protection when they arrived on Wednesday. At first, villagers turned out to bid him farewell, but the atmosphere quickly turned nasty.
A crowd of 500 tried to block his path, attacking the team with rocks and stones. ‘There was a lot of drama and anger as we approached,’ said Kartick Satyanarayan of Wildlife SOS. ‘The elephant was aggravated by a loud and unruly mob. Why would locals not want him saved? He’s an icon.’
He will now receive specialist geriatric care for the rest of his days. Since his rescue, he has been enjoying dust baths and gorging on fruits after being taken to a new home in Mathura, India.
Gajraj was rescued and taken to the Wildlife SOS Elephant Care & Conservation Center, where volunteers filmed the moment he arrived – and stuck his trunk out the top of the truck for a sniff of his new home, before tentatively stepping out.
He enjoyed a relaxing dust bath moments after his first ever free steps without chains shackled around his legs.
Gajraj being ushered out of the ambulance into his new home, where he is enjoying freedom for the first time in half a century
The elephant was moved 1,500km to the rescue centre after being taken to safety by charity volunteers
Free at last: Volunteers at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Care & Conservation Center filmed the moment Gajraj took his first steps
Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder of Wildlife SOS, said: ‘Gajraj immediately took to the new surroundings, gorging on fruits and taking dust baths.’
Charity vet Dr. Yaduraj Khadpekar, added: ‘We began his treatment as soon as he got into the ambulance.
‘We drained the puss from his hip abscesses. He was calm throughout and cooperated with the treatment.’
The elephant was rescued by the police and forest department on June 14 before he was taken to his new home with the help of vets and elephant caretakers.
He was in constant pain and showing signs of distress while in captivity, prompting the operation to take him to freedom
The elephant was suffering from painful abscesses and partial blindness before he was rescued
Gajraj was chained by his legs and kept as a tourist attraction at the temple, where he suffered severe psychological trauma
Wasim Akram, Wildlife SOS manager of special projects, said: ‘We ensured that Gajraj remained comfortable and hydrated throughout the long journey.
‘We made sure he got enough green fodder and refreshing baths. We also made multiple pit stops for him to rest.’
After seeing images of Gajraj in captivity, animal welfare campaigners Save The Asian Elephants said they appeared to show the animal ‘in distress and mental torment’.
CEO Duncan McNair told MailOnline: ‘These photos show a broken down, abused, injured, neglected and ill animal, in a terrible state physically and, as it seems, psychologically and mentally.’
Gajraj’s lifetime care and medical expenses, which will be round-the- clock, owing to his fragile geriatric body, will be entirely taken care of by Wildlife SOS. You can contribute to Gajraj’s lifetime care by making a donation today at wildlifesos.org.