By Mark Hodge @mrhodgey

A RESCUED circus elephant is reunited with her two best friends - who she performed with for more than four decades

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Rhea is fed a snack ahead of the long journey to her new home

The elephants, named Rhea, Mia and Sita, have been saved from a torturous existence by animal conservationists Wildlife SOS who have re-homed them in their sanctuary in Mathura in Northern, India.

But while her two friends were rescued last October, Rhea remained stranded at the circus until now because of problems with her paperwork.

Wildlife SOS co-founder Geeta poses with Rhea

The 53-year-old Asian elephant was poached as a calf and sold to the circus by traders.

Poor Rhea was beaten and starved into performing uncomfortable and painful tricks.

Together Again: Rhea clearly enjoyed seeing her friends again

At the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, the elephants are given veterinary care of the highest standard, ensuring that they can retire in peace and comfort.

Co-founder of Wildlife SOS, Geeta Seshamani, described the genuine love the animals have for each other.

The animals endured both physical and mental torture at the circus

She said: "Elephants are highly intelligent, sentient beings, and form extremely strong bonds with others of their kind.

"Although Mia, Sita and Rhea were not related by blood, in every other way, they were each other's family, so it was heart wrenching to have to leave one of these three girls behind, and we had to ensure we returned for her as soon as possible.”

Starting Over: Rhea arrives at the sanctuary in Mathura

Rhea was transported 2,800km from Tamil Nadu, in South East India, to her new home in Mathura, where she was greeted by staff and her two lifelong friends.

A quick drink: The pair of elephants enjoy a refreshment while catching up

Fellow Wildlife SOS co-founder Kartick Satyanarayan said that the animals were delighted to see each other.

Gentle Giant: One of the Wildlife SOS team shares a moment with Rhea
Wildlife SOS co-founder Kartick gives Rhea a wash

He added: “It was fantastic to witness natural elephant behaviour and hear the vocalisations of the elephants as they greeted each other.

The elderly beast enjoys a rest during the long journey

“Amidst the squeals of excitement and trunk holding that ensued, we could not help but feel honoured to have been part of this reunion.

“It was overwhelming that we had brought these gentle giants back together as a family.”

To get involved and help the thousands of captive elephants who have not yet been given freedom, please donate by visiting wildlifesos.org/donate.

For more information about Rhea and Wildlife SOS, visit wildlifesos.org or facebook.com/WildlifeSOS