Monday, August 11, 2014

Mosha: An Elephant Tale

Mosha stretches out her trunk, 40,000 muscles in play as the long, dexterous appendage blows out warm, moist air before softly stroking my cheek. I smile and stare into her golden eye, its clarity and depth speaking volumes. Gentle and sweet, I'm surprised how trusting this lovely girl is, given her history with humankind. But Mosha is obviously one forgiving elephant, with an amazing story that is both sad and inspirational.

Aged eight, Mosha (which means 'star' in the Karin language) is the recipient of the world's first elephant prosthetic leg. Attached to her front right foot, the large rubber, cushioned foam and metal device gives Mosha mobility, allowing her to walk around her enclosure with the agility of an able-bodied, four-legged elephant. It's a truly amazing sight as she moves her three tonne frame nimbly around obstacles, even clambering over rubber gym mats on the floor, with no sign of discomfort or pain.

Mosha in her enclosure
Mosha wearing her artificial limb

Mosha was just seven months old, following behind her mother at a logging camp on the Thai/Burmese border, when her leg was blown off by a landmine. Brought to the Friends of the Asian Elephant hospital in Lampang, it seemed she might not survive the ordeal; as well as her horrific injury, she was severely depressed, shunning food and the company of other elephants as she recovered from amputation.

I broach the sensitive issue of euthanasia with head vet at FAE, Dr Preecha Phuangkam - how bad does an injury have to be before an animal is put down? "She's a happy soul," Dr Preecha explains. "She wanted to live, she has a strong spirit. So we decided to help her as best we could."

Dr Preecha and co-founder of FAE, Soraida Salwala, sought advice from the Prostheses Foundation, a company that makes artificial legs for humans, asking if it was possible to adapt the technology for animals. Mosha's first artificial leg was fitted in 2007; it took about six months for her to overcome her fear and learn to walk again. She is now onto her sixth prosthetic, with the 10 kilogram device having to be replaced every year as she grows.

Mosha now wears the prosthetic seven hours a day, with the device removed for sleep.

Close up of her artificial limb

An elephant prosthesis can weigh up to 18 kilos

Despite having deformed hips and legs from uneven weight distribution, Mosha's future as a permanent resident at FAE is assured, helping her to live as normal a life as possible. She now takes daily walks to visit other elephants at the hospital, including Motala, a 52-year-old lady suffering a similar injury who has also been fitted with a false leg.

Motala, who also lost a leg to a landmine accident

The FAE hospital is supported by Intrepid Travel, who visit the facility as part of their Explore Northern Thailand tours.

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