11 July 2016

HEALTH - Prosthetic Leg Saves Elephant's Life

(Friends of the Asian Elephant)
There's a first for everything.

And at Friends of the Asian Elephant - the world's first elephant hospital - a permanent resident was its inaugural recipient to receive a prosthetic leg.

Meet Mosha.

She's the elephant unlucky enough to be injured when stepping on a landmine on Thailand’s border with Myanmar when she was just seven months old.

But the gravely injured elephant was lucky enough to be taken in by the foundation which focuses on the welfare of the massive mammals throughout Thailand.

While it has offered medical services, many times lifesaving, to more than 4,000 elephants over the past two decades, Mosha was the first to be fitted with an artificial leg.

Given Mosha was still growing – packing on the pounds and going from 1,300 lbs when she came to the hospital to her current 4,000 lbs – the limbs continually needed to be upgraded.

In the first year, alone, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Therdchai Jivcate who designed the fake limb, had to make Mosha three prosthetic legs just to accommodate her growing girth.

in June 2016, the Asian beauty was fitted with her ninth prosthetic limb.

Without the human intervention, Mosha wouldn't be alive today.

“The way she walked was unbalanced and her spine was going to bend,” Jivacate told Reuters. “She would have died.”

Giving the pitiful pachyderm a leg to stand on, however, wasn't so easy to accomplish.

“We knew she wouldn’t use the prosthetic leg if it caused her pain,” Jivacate told Vice's Motherboard. “At first, she was curious about what was attached to her stump and tried to remove the prosthetic with her trunk, but we’d secured it tightly.”

With her leg in a comfy socket created by Jivacate and his team, Mosha could work towards walking properly.

And she did.

Within 12 hours she had pretty much mastered movement with the new leg.

Mosha is one of many elephants tended to by the charitable foundation - given a second chance at life or simply treatment to improve their plight.

The goal for Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation is to care for “weak, sick and injured” elephants which would “otherwise have nowhere to go, endure unnecessary suffering or pain or, perhaps, even die.”

Mosha might have paved the way being the first fitted with a prosthetic lower leg, but other elephants have walked a similar path, also being fitted with limbs of their own.

Motola, one of more than a dozen elephants wounded by landmines in the border region long plagued with rebel fighting, also has one to replace the limb she lost.

Although the big beasts cannot convey gratitude with words, Jivacate is pretty sure they appreciate work he and his team do on their behalf. “Animals don’t ask that we make legs for them, but we wanted to give Mosha one,” he says.

“I think she knows that I make her prosthetic legs as each time I come to the elephant hospital she makes a little salute by raising her trunk in the air.”

The foundation's prosthesis factory is being touted as a new initiative to allow limbs to be made more quickly and at a lower cost.

Annually, the hospital sees about 72 in-patients while the Mobile Vets Project, an outreach program taking experts to where there animals are, has treated about 114 elephants per year.

Elephants treated suffer from a plethora of problems from eye infections resulting from extreme sun exposure, to digestive problems, constipation due to to dehydration or wounds inflicted by training tools.

Visit Friends of the Asian Elephant for more information.

By Nadia Moharib
Nadia Moharib is an animal lover who has adopted everything from birds to hamsters, salamanders, rabbits, fish and felines. She has written about all-things-pets for years and was a long-time editor of a pet magazine in a daily newspaper which featured a Q & A column, Ask Whit, penned by her pooch (ghost written, of course.) The serial dog owner lives in Calgary, Alberta and most days can be found at a dog park picking up after her rescue pooch, Scoots.

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