The Heartwarming Story of Sunder the Elephant

Sunder used to be imprisoned and abused. Not anymore.

In 2007, when he was just a child, Sunder was given as a gift to a temple in Kolhapur, India.

Sunder the Elephant Kept Captive

There, he was kept chained in solitary confinement and routinely abused.

Sunder's Cruel Chains

When PETA India learned about his plight, Sunder had an injured eye, a hole in his ear, and scars all over his body from the abuse he had endured at the temple.

PETA India began to campaign for Sunder’s release.

PETA India Protest to Free Sunder

Paul McCartney and Pamela Anderson immediately joined the call to help Sunder.

Paul McCartney and Pamela Anderson Letters on Behalf of Sunder

In 2012, after years of abuse, Sunder desperately tried to escape.

The Pillar Sunder Pulled Down Trying to Escape
This is the concrete pillar he pulled down to break free.

Shortly after Sunder’s attempted escape, authorities ordered that he be released to a sanctuary, thanks to the work of PETA India—but his captors refused to let him go.

The Dark Shed Sunder Was Kept In

Instead, they hid him in an old poultry shed.

In 2013, PETA India released shocking video footage of a beating that Sunder received at the hands of his mahout, or handler.

The video sparked outrage worldwide.

Hundreds of thousands of people wrote to the authorities demanding that Sunder be moved to a sanctuary.

PETA India kept the pressure on by meeting with officials and recruiting more celebrities to speak up for Sunder, and the group even fought for his release in the Bombay High Court and the Indian Supreme Court.

PETA India Meets with Officials About Sunder

And finally, on June 5, 2014, Sunder began his journey to safety at the Bannerghatta Biological Park, where he could be cared for properly.

Sunder onTruck to Sanctuary

When Sunder arrived at the park, he didn’t know what to make of the other elephants.

Sunder-Meeting-Elephant-at-Sanctuary

He hadn’t been around his own kind in a long, long time.

Sunder Meeting Elephants At Sanctuary

He had to learn to trust humans again, too.

Caretaker Offering Sunder a Treat

Treats helped!

And he had to be lightly restrained as his wounds healed.

But gradually, Sunder made friends, like Lakshmi …

Sunder and Friend

… and baby Shiva.

Sunder Meeting Elephants at Sanctuary

He even started warming up to his caretakers.

Sunder Getting a Bath From His New Caretakers

And he started swimming …

… and swimming some more.

Even his leg wound, a reminder of all those years spent chained, has now healed.

PETA India worked with the park to fence its entire 122-acre perimeter so that Sunder and his elephant family can move about freely instead of being chained (which is how captive elephants in India are usually kept).

PETA India is also working with experts to arrange training for local caregivers in the principles of the protected-contact system of handling elephants, which keeps both humans and elephants safe by keeping them separated by a sturdy barrier and employs the use of positive reinforcement techniques to manage the large animals instead of physical punishment.

Sunder Happy at Sanctuary

Sunder’s physical and emotional transformation is striking.

Watch Sunder’s inspiring journey:

Want to help other elephants like Sunder? Click here to help elephants now.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind