Three legged elephant

by Luke, in Thailand
26th August, 2009

Visiting the Friends of Asian Elephants (FAE) Hospital, I met an elephant who was in the slow rehabilitation process of having a prosthetic foot fitted. The poor creature had had its lower limb blown off by a landmine whilst working just over the Thai border in Burma. FAE offer treatment to injured elephants all over Thailand free of charge and of the 6000 or so elephants in Thailand over 3500 are in captivity, many of which are used for illegal logging. Logging was made illegal in Thailand twenty years ago but it still continues, particularly in the North of the country, around Chaing Mai.
Many of the elephants rescued by the FAE will remain at the hospital for life, crippled with broken legs or other wounds that prohibited them from continued work in the illegal logging camps, but they also help any that are injured and return them back to their owners on a mission to build good relations with the owners and improve the welfare of the elephants for the long term.. In truth, it is the lucky elephants that end up at FAE, many crippled elephants get sold to beggars in the big Thai cities where they roam the streets at night begging, Being sacred animal in Buddist culture they are a big earner for the street vendors.
The kind hospitality of the FAE staff, particularly Dr Preema who is a co founder and director of veterinary services of the centre was very generous. The passion he and his team show for the elephants and their commitemnet to helping these beautiful creatures was inspiring. It is very inspiring to visit such a place which is tucked away about an hours drive from the city, ironically near an elephanct circus – something which I am certain the staff at the hospital abhor but are too sensible to pass comment on.

The prosthesis is the first of its kind in the world and is still a work in progress but remarkable, the elephant, having survived such a traumatic injury, is doing well and the future looks positive considering that elephants put about 60% of their body weight on their fornt legs and for any long term chance of making it, the prosthesis has to work. It just goes to show that anything is possible – even fitting a false leg to a ten tonne elephant.
The day ended with a few grueling cases back at the hospital – a dog had been savaged on the back its neck and Ally spent about forty minutes pulling thirty plus maggots from the wound. She definitely got a raw deal with that job but cleaned it up magnificiently. It was a horrific injury but one that should come right with solid antibiosis and regular bathing.

I also had to put down a dog that had had most of the skin and muscle ripped from one its hingdlegs and was bravely battling on – despite gnawing at its own flesh with the discomfort of it’s horrendous wound. Sadly the shelter is already overstocked and even if the poor dog had survived heoric surgery to remove the ravaged limb, it would have had a very tough time at the shelter with minimal chance of being rehomed. This was compunded by the fact it’s one remaining backleg was also badly injured. It’s chances were 5% at best. I find these sort of decisions very tough, especially when I know the people at the shelter would never give up on an animal if they thought it could pull through. It simply wasn’t fair on the dog nor the staff and the poor animal deserved the dignity to go to sleep peacefully rather than a slow death from septacaemia.

Sadly Magnum’s wound had also broken down due to the humidity and a soaked bandage. I knocked him out and reoperated so fingers crossed it holds. I’m going to head back tomorrow evening and take another look at it.
The crew are in good spirits, Marc stayed with me to help out at the shelter whilst Scottie and Chai headed back to base to go over the tapes. The hotel is an amazing place to come back to and recharge from the madness of the day; now I am out of sight of the main dining area, and thankfully my notoriety as the guest stripper amongst the other residents and staff seems to have died down a bit ….

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