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NEW DELHI — An elephant crying tears is making people smile.

A chained elephant appeared to be crying as he was rescued. They appeared to be tears of joy as he tasted freedom for the first time.

The elephant, named Raju, bobs his head relentlessly. His caretakers say it’s a sign of the trauma he has 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.

All his life Raju was forced to work as a begging prop for his owners. Sometimes he would be rented out for Indian weddings. To keep him under control, his owners allegedly starved and beat him.

After investigating Raju’s case for more than a year, Kartick Satyanarayan 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 went viral.

“He had these huge gushes of liquid coming out of his eyes and just pouring down on either side of his cheek,” Satyanarayan said.

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 then he said you know it looks like he understands that we are here to help him,” Satyanarayan said.

“It’s OK for animals to have some tears, but he was weeping. There was so much tears coming out we could see he was in a lot of pain.”

Wildlife SOS has rescued thousands of animals, including 11 elephants. Those who have been rehabilitated walk around freely.

Some 3,000 elephants remain in captivity just in India. In a country where the majority of Indians still live in impoverished circumstances, animals, for the most part, have yet to become a priority.

As for Raju, these experts say it will take years for him to learn to accept the kindness of humans. He’s still half the weight he should be. But for now, at least he’s free.