Friday, August 21, 2009

Thai elephant hurt by mine gets artificial leg

updated 2:25 p.m. ET, Sat., Aug 15, 2009

LAMPANG, Thailand - Motola, a female elephant who stepped on a land mine 10 years ago and endured painful operations, was fitted Saturday in Thailand for a permanent artificial leg.

The 48-year-old pachyderm became a symbol of the plight of today's elephants, and her injury sparked international sympathy and donations.

Experts were making a cast of her injured left front leg for a plastic prosthetic limb which will be attached later Saturday.

"I do hope she will accept the new leg. It would be wonderful to see Motola and Baby Mosha walking together side-by-side," said Soraida Salwala, secretary general of the Friends of the Asian Elephant, a non-governmental group.

Mosha, also a land mine victim, became the world's first elephant with an artificial leg, attached in 2007. Soraida said Mosha, now a 3-year-old, is faring well and has outgrown three of her prosthetic devices.

Both elephants have been cared for at the Elephant Hospital, set up by Soraida's group in 1993. The world's first such facility, the hospital has treated thousands of elephants for ailments ranging from eye infection to gunshot wounds.

Motola was injured in 1999 while working at a logging camp along the Myanmar-Thailand border, a region peppered with land mines after half a century of insurgency. Her mangled foot was amputated, and she hobbled on three feet until fitted with a temporary, canvas shoe-like device two years later.

Motola's initial operation used enough anesthetic to floor 70 people — a record noted in the 2000 Guinness Book of World Records.

"It has been 10 years now, but in all these long years Motola enjoyed a happy life, walking out of her shelter for a sun bath," Soraida said.

Soraida said Motola has otherwise been in fine health, with her once bony frame now weighing more than 3 tons.

The artificial leg has been constructed by the Prostheses Foundation, which also makes cheap but effective artificial limbs for human amputees.

A number of elephants have had land mine injuries. But that is only one of many problems facing the domesticated giant, whose numbers have dropped from 13,400 in 1950 to today's estimated 2,500. The number of wild elephants has also dropped dramatically.

Traditionally the truck, taxi and logging worker of Thailand, the elephant has lost most of its jobs to modernization. One saving grace has been the tourism industry, which employs large numbers for elephant trekking and other activities.

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