An elephant that spent 50 years in captivity cried real tears when wildlife conservationists staged a daring midnight rescue.

Likely captured as a baby, Raju had been abused for years, shackled in spiked chains and forced to live off scraps from tourists.

Wildlife SOS, a group established in 1995 to protect India's wildlife, attempted to rescue Raju from his owner in the Uttar Pradesh region July 2.

His captors layered tighter chains on the elephant and attempted to confuse him with commands, but a team of 10 veterinarians and Wildlife SOS experts along with 20 Forestry Commission officers and two policemen managed to get Raju to safety, the Mirror reported.

"Raju was in chains 24 hours a day, an act of intolerable cruelty. The team were astounded to seeĀ tears roll down his face during the rescue," Wildlife SOS spokesman Pooja Binepal said. "It was incredibly emotional. We knew in our hearts he realized he was being freed. Elephants are majestic and highly intelligent animals. We can only imagine what torture the past half a century has been for him."

Raju was taken to the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre in Mathura. Fittingly, he took his first steps sans chains on July 4.