The giant temple elephant showed his delight at finally being free by taking a dust bath at the end of a 1,000-mile journey which saw him getting a celebrity welcome as he arrived at his new home in a conservation centre.
For the first time in years, there were no shackles around his feet.
There had ugly scenes as conservation group Wildlife SOS launched its rescue mission, with a local mob throwing stones and attacking conservation workers to disrupt their efforts.
A large police contingent stepped in to help the Wildlife SOS team so they could transport Gajraj to the organisation’s Mathura Elephant Care and Conservation Centre in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Here, say his rescuers, Gajraj now has compassionate keepers and vets on hand so he can live out his life in a large enclosure and will never be “forced to work at a temple or at ceremonies ever again”.
It is believed that Gajraj was only 12 years old when he was taken from the wild. PETA India launched a campaign for his release, highlighting how he had spent most of life shackled, and will now pay for his care.
The moment that Gajraj could finally feel freedom under his huge feet was recorded by Wildlife SOS whose co-founder Kartick Satyanarayan described the scene.
“Within a few short minutes of stepping into the centre, we could see a marked change in the behaviour of the elephant,” said Kartick. “He immediately took to the new surroundings, gorging on fruits and taking dust baths.”
For all the delight over Gajraj’s arrival, his carers have revealed how he is suffering from several medical issues such as foot and hip abscesses, severe degeneration of foot pads and partial blindness.
He has started receiving the treatment he needs at the Wildlife SOS care centre which has veterinary facilities and currently looking after 20 other rehabilitated elephants.
Dr Yaduraj Khadpekar, the senior Wildlife SOS vet, added: “We began his treatment as soon as he got into the ambulance and…