By Tom Gillespie @TomGillespie1

AN ABUSED elephant that was shackled for half a century is enjoying his freedom a year on from his rescue

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Soaking it up: Raju loves to bathe at the elephant sanctuary

Gentle giant Raju captured the hearts of animal lovers all over the world, after crying when it was saved by UK-based charity Wildlife SOS.

Raju's love of fruit has helped him put on roughly 1,000 pounds in a year in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh

The tuskless bull elephant celebrates his 51st birthday on July 4th, which coincides with his first night of freedom in 2014.

Leafy diet: A happy-looking Raju snacking from a branch
Got the nose for it: The 50-year-old loves a mouthful of grass

Wildlife SOS rescued 11ft tall Raju from his abusive owner after a year-long process of acquiring the necessary court order.

He has spent the last year living at the organisation's Elephant Conservation and Care Centre in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, India, where a fruit-based diet has helped him pack on roughly 1,000lbs in weight.

Kept in slavery: A destitute Raju pictured while he was still being exploited in 2014

Wildlife SOS co-founder Geeta Seshamani said: “Raju came in with many abscesses and over a hundred injuries and wounds from the years of abuse he endured.

“Many of them have since healed, but his right hind leg has had recurring swelling which has at times made it difficult for him to bear weight on it.

Road to recovery: A frail Raju in his early days at the sanctuary

“He also had one shoulder wound that took nearly a full year to heal.

“Raju was extremely thin and malnourished at the time of rescue.

“He now weighs 7400lbs.  He has put on about 1000lbs since his arrival.

Years of walking on tarmac has taken its toll

“A healthy weight for an elephant his size is between 11,000 to 12,000lbs. He is one of the lightest elephants although he is the tallest elephant at the facility.”

Raju was kept in chains and abused by his drug addict owner for 50 years after being poached from the wild as a baby.

Hosing down: Wildlife SOS co-founder Kartick Satyanarayan giving Raju a shower

The elephant's master would tell pilgrims at religious sites that he could bless them in exchange for money.

The long-suffering elephant endured decades of being starved and beaten, and resorted to eating plastic and paper in his desperate need for food.

This image released by Wildlife SOS reportedly shows the animal in tears on the night of his rescue

After being held captive for 50 years in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, the elephant was declared free in December last year.

His status became official after his previous owner failed in a legal attempt to reclaim him.

Raju worked in tough conditions throughout his life in chains
Spiked shackles would dig into Raju's feet during his years of slavery

Pooja Binepal, of Wildlife SOS-UK, said: “Raju was in chains 24 hours-a-day and had lived a life with intolerable cruelty.

The elephant was starved and beaten by his drug-addicted owner

"The team were astounded to see tears roll down his face during the rescue. After one year of his freedom, I am overwhelmed at the love and support Raju has got from across the world.”

Speaking about Raju's dramatic rescue, the charity's co-founder Kartick Satyanarayan, said: “Several elephant keepers and emergency staff arrived in Allahabad armed with tranquilising equipment, medicines, and rescue gear, to help rescue and move Raju safely to his new home in Mathura.

His owner would tell pilgrims he had the power to bless them

"Over 20 forest and police officers were also present during the rescue operation which started at 6.30pm on July 3, and ended at one minute past midnight on July 4 with Raju safely on a truck.”

The animal now lives with 14 other rescued elephants at the Wildlife SOS Elephant and Conservation and Care Centre.

Raju has plenty of elephant company at his new home

To mark his birthday and the one-year anniversary of his freedom, staff will present him with a card and a caked filled with his favourite fruits.

An elephant trail at the centre is also set to be named in his honour.