MATHURA, India (CNN) – An elephant crying real tears is making people smile.
Raju is 50 years old. He bobs his head relentlessly.
His caretakers say it’s a sign of the trauma he’s had to endure.
He was 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 weddings.
To keep him under control, his owners allegedly starved and beat him.
“I know this is hard to believe but these are not from a torture chamber, they are actually things we took off Raju. These spears they were used everyday to spear Raju when he wouldn’t listen. And these spikes, they are spikes that he’s worn for the past 50 years of his life every single day, day and night,” said Kartick Satyanarayan, Co-founder, Wildlife SOS.
After investigating Raju’s case for more than a year, Kartick 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.
“He had these huge gushes of liquid coming out of his eyes and just pouring down on either side of his cheek,” said Satyanarayan.
The rescue operation took eight hours. As Raju was unchained, Satyanarayan says he cried again.
“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 the he said you know it looks like he understands that we are here to help him.”
Wildlife SOS has rescued thousands of animals including 11 elephants.
Those who’ve been rehabilitated walk around freely
Some 3,000 elephants remain in captivity though, in India alone.
“I think the biggest challenge is the mind-set of the people who deal with captive elephants. They justify almost every kind of cruelty that is practiced against captive elephants on ground of tradition, and this is what we are trying to fight.
As for Raju, these experts say, it’ll take years for him to learn to accept the kindness of human beings.