Suraj, a one-eared elephant, who at 45-years-old had lived for decades in shackles with spiked chains in a dark room, is finally free after a daring midnight rescue by Wildlife SOS India.

When Wildlife SOS India first discovered Suraj, he was found standing in his own excrement and urine, in the same dank room he has occupied for years. Heavy chains were wrapped around his legs, and when examined by a veterinarian, Suraj was found to have many more injuries. The vet discovered bullhook wounds on his head, a lice and tick infestation, cracked and painful toenails, foot rot, infection in both eyes, and even a severe injury to the tip of his tail. At one time in his life, his entire left ear was ripped off. No one knows quite how it happened, but it is suspected that he suffered the injury when he was captured from the wild as a baby and separated from his mother and herd.

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Suraj was found suffering in chains with bullhook wounds to his head.

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On December 21, 2015, everything changed for Suraj, whose name means “sunshine.” Wildlife SOS India said that Suraj’s midnight rescue was their most dangerous missions yet, as the team was met by a mob of more than 200 people who attempted to keep the elephant from freedom. The 20-member crew was accompanied by a contingent of 70 police and forest department officials for back up and after a 10-hour face-off, Wildlife SOS was finally able to reach a negotiation and the SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Center members managed to gently coax the former temple elephant onto a specially-designed ambulance and drove into the night escorted by several police vehicles.

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Rescuers were met by a mob of 200 people intent on keeping Suraj captive.

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A group of 70 police provide backup in order to move Suraj safely to the Wildlife SOS Sanctuary.

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Suraj was in extremely bad shape, battling foot rot, a lice and tick infestation, and infection in both eyes. Vets wasted no time and treated him while en route to the rescue center.

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After four days and traveling 1500 kilometres, the team arrived at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Center in Mathura outside of Delhi where Suraj will live out the rest of his days without pain or abuse.

Suraj will no longer be abused or neglected at his new home with Wildlife SOS.

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 Suraj enjoys his first of many dust baths – something he has been deprived of for decades.

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Wildlife SOS has rescued 22 elephants over the past six years. However, Suraj’s rescue was the first time Wildlife SOS had saved an elephant from a temple.

“Asian elephants in captivity have been captured from the wild. Sadly although they are worshipped in temples throughout the country, they are housed in pathetic conditions in ignorance of their complex physical, psychological and social requirements. As temple elephants go, Suraj’s condition was in violation of several guidelines and laws in India. We hope that his rescue will shed some light on the plight of temple elephants in India. It is time for us to treat the heritage animal of India with more dignity and respect,” Kartick Satyanarayan, Co-founder of Wildlife SOS, said in a press release.

A fruity treat is just the beginning for Suraj.  He will now have the “sunshine” in his life he has been deprived of for decades.

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Wildlife SOS was only able to carry out this mission because of support. In order for elephants, like Suraj, to have the lives they deserve, the organization needs your help. Make a difference in the life of an elephant and help contribute to the continued care of Suraj by visiting Wildlife SOS and making a donation and bringing a whole lot of “sunshine” to Suraj’s life.

All image source: Wildlife SOS