Sunday, August 23, 2009

Elephant with sore feet gets comfy slippers

updated 4:32 p.m. ET, Mon., Aug 17, 2009

Did you hear the one about the elephant who wears slippers? She got ’em so she can sneak up on mice!

Actually, the pachyderm in question — an almost-40-year-old Asian elephant named Gay — needed a solution to a common ailment: sore feet. Her keepers at the Paignton Zoo Environmental Park in Devon, England, noticed an abscess on her right front foot last year, then another one on her left front foot this January.

To help ease her pain, she was given regular pedicures, antibiotic foot baths, aloe vera and anti-inflammatory treatments. But after consulting with experts, zoo workers decided what she really needed was a cozy pair of elephant slippers.

To help design them, Gay’s handlers had to trace around each of her front feet to make a pattern and contact a specialty animal-products company in Australia to hand-craft a pair of high-tech, breathable boots. Each one is about 16 inches across, has super-durable laces and costs a little more than $400. (She could have gotten some nice Prada heels for that price!)

"The boots will help to keep her feet clean between baths and allow us to put on dressings," Ghislaine Sayers, head of veterinary services at Paignton Zoo, explained in a message on the zoo's Web site. "Elephants can get sore places on their feet for all sorts of reasons — posture, age, arthritis, bruising if they stand on stones."

Gay, who weighs about 4 tons, was seeming a little sluggish of late. She had trouble getting up after lying down — a sure symptom of achy feet. Walking on grass and dirt outside her paddock wasn’t so bad, but since Gay likes to spend a lot of time indoors (that’s where the humans hang out, and she likes the company), the paddock’s concrete floor was a problem. So her keepers trucked in 100 tons of sand and installed rubber matting, giving Gay a newly cushy indoor surface. That, plus her slippers, will help her feet to heal and ease her pain.

Now all she needs is a really, really big Snuggie and she’s all set.

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