I have to say that Chhouk is an amazing little elephant. He was discovered wondering alone in the forests of Mondulkiri in great pain and extremely distressed. He had lost part of his foot to a hunters snare and would not have lasted very long had he not been rescued by the “Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team” which is a government team run by the NGO Wildlife Alliance.
My good friend Nick Marx spent around 10 days in the forest with Chhouk in an effort to calm him for the long journey to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, which is about 50kms south of Phnom Penh. I believe the journey took around 13 hours.
It had been around 2 years since he arrived at Phnom Tamao and with his foot now healed it was decided to try to fit him with a prosthetic foot. The process began back in May when a cast was taken of this foot by staff from the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics (CSPO) who normally create prosthetics for the many Khmers that lost limbs in the decades long war.
The process of making a foot for Chhouk is pretty much the same as with a human. The main challenge was the fact that you can’t get feedback from Chhouk, so it’s difficult to know if it’s causing him a problem. The team from CSPO met with vets to discuss x-rays and decide how best to construct the foot. The x-rays appear to show either a bone fragment or what may just be scar tissue, either way it was important to take the weight off this part of the stump.
The first part of the process is to take a cast of the stump. Chhouk was amazingly cooperative considering he had quite a few people playing with his foot. All he needed was bribe and a constant supply of bananas did the trick. After that the CSPO team built a mould from the cast, before constructing the foot from various plastics and foams, just as they would with a human prosthetic. The base of the foot ended up being a car tyre.
Chhouk has since undergone several fittings and amazingly at no time has he required any sedation. He took to the first foot within minutes. He seemed to immediately recognise how helpful this was to him and now he won’t leave his enclosure without it. It’s made a huge difference to him and he now walks more like an elephant whereas before he had a terrible limp and had to stop regularly on his daily walks. Without the prosthetic foot he would certainly end up being severely disfigured, now he is clearly a much happier little elephant and his future looks very promising.
You can see my short film about Chhouk on my “Films” page.
You can also find it along with more information on Chhouk at the Wildlife Alliance site. www.wildlifealliance.org
CSPO can be found at www.cspo.org.kh