It took an army of rescuers some 70 strong, including “officers from the police and local forestry department”. There were 20 agents from Wildlife SOS (the charity who had legally secured Suraj’s release) as well. The word was out that a backlash from the locals and the mahouts would cause the elephant more suffering (the mahout’s anger would be inflicted upon the elephant “to prevent him from leaving”) and they were taking no chances. Yet despite the early hour, at 2:00 am, the appointed time, “a mob of 200” rushed in “determined to keep Suraj in chains”.
Remarkably, throughout all of this mayhem the elephant slept, not even aware that his misery was about to end. He would soon be whisked off in an elephant-sized ambulance from Wildlife SOS of India. At last, at long last after 20 years (one of them without an ounce of sunlight) his life in chains and confinement in a 12 foot enclosure would be over.
He was named Suraj, (meaning ‘Sunny’) ironic since his life had been filled with such darkness. From the time he was born and taken from his mother this Indian elephant has only known a life of suffering. Over the years, Suraj came to be called “the one-eared elephant”. (As a young calf, during his capture, was when he most likely had his left ear forcefully torn off.) He has lived for no telling how long with a broken tail.
As one of “an estimated 600 temple elephants of India – starved, abused and chained to the same spot for decades” Suraj caught the world’s attention through a feature presented by a compassionate reporter. And it was because of The Daily Mail and journalist Liz Jones that a 45 year old Indian elephant can begin to heal.
But Suraj’s wounds run deep. As a Temple elephant he was put on display for the likes of tourists posing for their endless “selfies”. (His display den or room had Suraj standing on concrete, restrained with chains on “all four feet” and when he was able to lie down, it was in filth and “his own feces”.)
Annually he was expected to take part in the “religious procession”. While this may have helped him escape his bondage at the Martand Temple (located “in the state of Maharashtra in central India”), if only for one day, just over a year ago he snapped. The mass of bellowing humans had finally “driven him mad” and in his anger and fear and confusion he instigated “a stampede” killing one in the crowd.
After this Suraj’s existence (one cannot call it a life) only worsened and then the real punishment began (his one year solitary lockdown). When he was denied all dignity due such an elephant (a Temple elephant) to be revered as a “deity” and he had lost all hope of ever being an elephant again, what was left in his world? What was left for Suraj?
Now, the moment this “perilously thin” elephant was backed into the transport ambulance for the 930 mile journey to New Delhi Suraj instinctively knew he would never have to endure another moment of suffering. With his trunk he seemed to be bidding farewell to the people, the place and the surroundings that he never cared to remember again. He was off to a new life at a sanctuary that welcomed him, on the “Eve of Christmas,” and introduced him to “his first dust bath”. A whole world of firsts awaits Suraj and this elephant is so deserving of every bit.
Thank you journalist Liz Jones and The Daily Mail on Sunday / The Daily Mail Online for exposing the plight of these Temple Elephants and contributing to Suraj’s rescue.
Thank you to Wildlife SOS for all that you do to save our elephants in India.
Note: As you look at the photos of Suraj at the Daily Mail notice how hopeless he looks in photo 1, the look in his eyes and the expression he makes as he is laying chained on the cement slab at the temple. Contrast that with photo 5 showing the Wildlife SOS Ambulance on the “road to freedom” and the tip of “Suraj’s trunk can be seen poking out of the top of the vehicle” exploring in wonder. Oh, sweet freedom. Sweet freedom, indeed!