(BPT) - Everyone cherishes a particular independence day. Brazilians celebrate their independence from Portugal September 7 and the Japanese celebrate their independence on February 11. For the Finnish, December 6 marks the day they became independent from Russia in 1917.
In the United States, Independence Day is celebrated July 4, commemorating the colonies' declared independence from Great Britain in 1776. And while Americans celebrate, they are not the only ones who hold this particular Independence Day dear.
Across the world, at the Wildlife SOS elephant rescue center in India, an elephant named Raju celebrated his first year of independence this year on July 4. The party included a jumbo-sized cake for Raju and an anniversary card signed by the staff and other rescue elephants. In addition, the trail the elephants love to walk each day was christened Raju's Freedom Trail.
Although the day was happy, Raju's past is full of sorrow. Taken from the wild when he was only a baby, he was sold to different owners dozens of times and forced to live as a begging elephant on the streets in India. Malnourished, living on garbage and repeatedly beaten in public, Raju had never known freedom until actions were set in motion one year ago.
A glimmer of independence
Raju's path to freedom began when undercover footage of the severe cruelty he suffered was recovered and Forest Department officials began working to obtain a court order transferring Raju to the Elephant Care and Conservation Center.
The rescue effort began July 2, 2014, leading to a standoff between Raju's owner and the Wildlife SOS team. On July 3, at 4 a.m. Raju was finally loaded onto a truck and transported to the Elephant Care and Conservation Center. Upon his arrival, Raju was backed off the truck and, after a grueling 45 minutes, the last of the chains were finally removed. For the first time in 50 years, Raju was free and he wept as the last chain came loose.
Raju's long road to recovery
On July 5, 2014, a full medical inspection was performed on Raju to determine the degree of his suffering and physical disability. Raju's body was covered with hundreds of wounds, many were years old and had become infected when they were not allowed to heal properly. A diet of garbage had left him malnourished and frail, and a serious wound to his right hind leg caused him to limp badly.
Caregivers worked to treat his wounds and started him on a nutrition program, introducing him to new, nourishing foods such as watermelon, jackfruit, bananas, pumpkins, sugar cane and healthy green fodder. Raju gulped them down by the bucket savoring the healthy treats.
A year of firsts
Since Raju was given freedom, he has enjoyed numerous firsts that were previously denied him.
On July 15, 2014, Raju entered a pool for the first time and remained there for hours. On July 28, he was introduced to the Herd of Hope, a group of rescue elephants already living at the center. This allowed him to spend time with his own kind and learn skills denied him by his capture. 'The biggest challenge that Raju faces is simply learning how to be an elephant,' says Steve Koyle, Wildlife SOS volunteer and elephant keeper at the Phoenix Zoo. 'He's been told what to do, beaten and neglected for so many years. Now Raju has the options of swimming, dusting, scratching, foraging and sleeping on big dirt beds under the stars. He now has freedom of choice.'
Other elephants are still looking for their freedom
By May 5 of this year, veterinarians had determined that 95 percent of Raju's physical wounds had healed. But while Raju grows stronger every day on the path to recovery, the outlook is not so positive for others of his kind.
An estimated 2,000-3,000 elephants remain bound and abused in India every day. Many of these elephants were stolen from their mothers as babies and have been beaten into submission as begging elephants or temple elephants.
Every day, Wildlife SOS works to find and save more elephants like Raju in order to show them a better life and free them from cruelty. The sanctuary has 18 elephants now but many more are still suffering across the country. To learn how you can help free elephants suffering in servitude and give them their own independence day, visit Wildlifesos.org or donate to Raju's Rescue Fund, which will be used to rescue and care for abused elephants in India.