Jumbo effort to ensure no elephant will be out on a limb

Motala, an elephant that was injured by a landmine, with its prosthetic leg, courtesy of Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation in Lampang, Thailand.
Motala, an elephant that was injured by a landmine, with its prosthetic leg, courtesy of Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation in Lampang, Thailand.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK • Mosha was seven months old when it stepped on a landmine near Thailand's border with Myanmar and lost a front leg. That was a decade ago.

It has just received its ninth artificial leg, thanks to the Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation hospital in northern Thailand.

Mosha is one of more than a dozen elephants injured by landmines in the border region, where rebels have been fighting the Myanmar government for decades. It was the first elephant to get a prosthetic limb at the hospital near Lampang.

Mosha weighed about 590kg when it was wounded. Today, it weighs more than 1,800kg, and this growth has necessitated frequent upgrades of its artificial leg.

Motala, another resident of the hospital, lost a front leg to a landmine in the same border area in 1999. It is now more than 50 years old. The Eyes of Thailand, a 2012 documentary, featured the elephant being fitted with an artificial limb.

Dr Therdchai Jivacate, a Thai orthopaedist who helped design prosthetic limbs for the elephants, said they could not survive without them. "When she cannot walk, she is going to die," he told The Daily Telegraph in Britain in 2009, when Mosha was fitted with a new prosthesis.

When Mosha received its newest artificial limb last week, he told Reuters: "The way she walked was unbalanced, and her spine was going to bend. That means she would have hurt her cartilages badly and eventually stopped walking. And she would have died because of that."

The Thai Elephant Conservation Centre estimates that there are 2,000 to 3,000 elephants living in the wild in Thailand and about 2,700 domesticated ones. In the past, many elephants in Thailand worked in the logging industry, where their agility and strength made them a valuable asset. But the Thai government banned logging in the nation's forests in 1989, putting them out of work.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 03, 2016, with the headline 'Jumbo effort to ensure no elephant will be out on a limb'. Print Edition | Subscribe