Three legged elephant

by Luke, in Thailand
26th August, 2009
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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 ….

Elephants galore!

by Luke, in Thailand
27th August, 2009
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Meeting Lek at the elephant foundation was inspirational. Born in a Hill Tribe, she fell in love with elephants as a child and pledged her life to help them. With incredible determination and commitment she established the elephant foundation through decades of hard work and indomitable spirit. She had so many sad stories of elephants she has rescued but many have happy endings and it is very moving to hear how she has rehabilitated these great creatures from horrendous abuse. The visit ended with both her and me getting covered from head to toe in thick mud as two of the babies decided to roll around on the ground beside us and flick dirt everywhere. Thankfully it was only mud I was covered in for a change (the crew wisely retreated to a safe distance whilst all this was going on) so it washed off my face and arms fairly well and with a quick costume change I was good as new.
We then headed back to the FAE to help fit prosthesis on a 3 year old little elephant which had suffered a similar injury to the one we had seen yesterday. It almost seems this is a common occurrence there but these are the only two elephants with prosthesis in the world. The Prosthesis Foundation were there and had built the prosthetic for free. Because the youngster is still growing it will need to be changed every four months for the next 17 years! It was a joy to watch the elephant walk about the yard and it was a fairytale ending for the poor creature that really deserved some luck and TLC. Injured when just seven months old and whilst a calf at foot, her Mother was sent back to the logging camp to continue a life of abject hardship when the baby turned two. She is now three and although she will need to remain at the hospital for the rest of her life, at least she will be pain free and will be able to grow up without a twisted spine and in normal proportion with her false leg supporting her weight and allowing her to interact around her pen.
Finally back to the shelter –a very sad looking emergency case whose eye I think I will probably need to remove tomorrow and to re bandaged Magnum’s paw. I’m holding my breath – at the moment it looks okay so fingers crossed this one doesn’t breakdown.

Fragile Giants

by Marc the Producer, in Thailand
27th August, 2009
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We met a couple of amazing people over the last few days. Lek and Dr. Preccha both dedicate their lives to help and take care of mistreated and injured elephants.
It was a real privilege to film with Lek, a Thai conservationist. Over the years she has built an amazing elephant orphanage  and with the help of many volunteers she is doing a truly magical job. Her dedication is second to none.

We also visited Dr. Preecha, who works at the Friends for the Asian Elephant (FAE) foundation. They take care of elephants that have stepped on landmines while working for the illegal logging industry near the Thailand-Burmese border.

Great people, great elephants, great stories!

Magnum’s Paw

by Luke, in Thailand
28th August, 2009
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Up to the temple crack of dawn for a few general shots for the programme. It is an amazing temple, perched on the side of a big mountain overlooking Chiang Mai and although a bit overcast, it was a great visit. I like Buddhist temples and although extremely tourist focused, it was magnificent. Then back to the shelter to crack on with the business at hand.
Desperately frustratingly, Magnum’s paw had broken down again overnight. In the space of twelve hours it had completely come apart. I am close to despair about this poor dog’s wound and I knocked him out again and did the job again. I simply can’t take anymore tissue away – I went right to the bone and resected everything that looked remotely necrotic or inflamed. I just pray it was enough. My main worry is a super infection, after nine months of endless antibiotics and failed dressings, it’s proving a huge challenge to get right. If this doesn’t knit together my options are very limited.

The other poor dog which I mentioned yesterday and which had been dropped at the shelter had its eye removed and a horrendous ingrown dew claw cut off. It was crawling in lice as well so in a couple of days it should feel like a new animal. Very satisfying and I needed a case like that after Magnums paw.

Chai spent the day editing at the hotel so didn;t join us for thr hardcore ops nor the GV’s. This may explain why he has gone out clubbing with the Thai film crew and why I’m in the hotel writing this blog at 1am…


by Luke, in Thailand
29th August, 2009
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Magnum’s paw broke down completely – so upsetting. Poor dog was so trusting and sweet when I agonized over what to do. Ally at the shelter was pragmatic, sympathetic and supportive in making one of the hardest decisions I have been involved with on these trips and I needed a lot of moral support for what had to be done. It was very difficult because I didn’t want to give up on the paw but I needed to face the reality that after three operations and complete failure to get the tissue knitting together, it wasn’t going to happen. Nine months of an open wound had left a chronic infection and deep fissure that I couldn’t get on top of. The pressure of knowing I am leaving in two days put me in a tricky spot – I couldn’t leave the team at the shelter with such an awkward and unresolved case and it wouldn’t be fair on them or Magnum. After Karin came over for a chat about the situation, had a look at the paw and agreed with what had to be done, I began the preparations to remove the leg.
It messed everyone’s day up – the shelter team were incredibly supportive and gave up their Sundays to help, the film crew also gave up their planned free afternoon to help as well. I’m not sure if or how much of the operation will make the programme – it is very difficult to show such a difficult dilemma and gruesome operation but as far as it can go, the op went well.

Magnum woke up without a buster collar for the first time in nine months. When the wound heals and he adapts he will be out the cage and at least free of the chronic pain and constant irritation of a sore paw. Very hard call to make but having done the op I do feel a sense of relief for the poor dog and I think we all feel pleased it went well and that he is going to be okay.

Almost finished

by Luke, in Thailand
30th August, 2009
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Magnum was up bright and moving around already this morning when we arrived at the shelter. Ally has taken the position of shelter manager so it was buzzing this morning as I checked over a few patients and the crew did some general views of the hustle and bustle for the programme.
The day has been full on last minute interviews, driving shots and filling in all the checklist boxes on Marc’s list! One very sad case at the shelter was a little puppy who came in paralyzed on his hindlegs. She can only be about 10weeks and I suspect has suffered some sort of traumatic injury to her spine. I gave her some pain relief, strong anti-inflammatories and covering antibiotics so will reassess tomorrow morning.

Last day at the shelter

by Luke, in Thailand
31st August, 2009
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Last day of the shoot. The puppy is looking a bit brighter so fingers crossed and it’s not in any pain so time will tell after a few days. We also let Magnum out of the enclosure which was brilliant – he was very happy and looks great. Leaving the shelter this morning was sad – I feel part of the team and a bit like I am abandoning them as I really would like to do more to help out. I know they will be fine though – they are a strong and dedicated bunch and their tireless, selfless compassion for the work has been inspirational. It’s been a great trip and a privilege to have worked at the Care for Dogs shelter. Definitely a very worthy cause and one which WVS will do our best to support.

Just building up the epic flight home now as I pack my bags and get ready. Can’t wait to get home and see the family but I do have to say that the staff at the Veranda Hotel here have done their best to make us all feel as welcome as possible throughout our visit here, so a big thanks to them. I think I have time for one last traditional Thai cheeseburger…