August 17, 2009 in Nation/World

Elephant takes first steps on prosthesis

Pachyderm lost part of leg stepping on land mine
Apichart Weerawong Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Motola uses her trunk to spray dust after walking out of an enclosure with her new artificial leg at the Elephant Hospital in Lampang province, northern Thailand, on Sunday.
(Full-size photo)

Population decline

Numbers of domesticated elephants have dropped from 13,400 in 1950 to today’s estimated 2,500.

LAMPANG, Thailand – Motola, an elephant who lost a foot and part of her leg when she stepped on a land mine 10 years ago, happily if tentatively stepped out Sunday after being fitted with an artificial limb.

In her first stroll with the permanent prosthesis, the 48-year-old female walked out of her enclosure for about 10 minutes, grabbed some dust with her trunk and jubilantly sprayed it in the air.

“It has gone very well – she has walked around twice,” said Soraida Salwala, secretary general of the Friends of the Asian Elephant, a private group. “She has not put her whole weight on it yet, but she’s OK.”

Motola was injured in 1999 while working at a logging camp near the Myanmar border, a region peppered with land mines after a half-century of insurgency. Her mangled left front foot was subsequently amputated.

Motola had been wearing a temporary device for three years to strengthen her leg muscles and tendons and to prepare her for the permanent prosthesis. Soraida said Motola has otherwise been in fine health and that her once-bony frame now weighs more than 3 tons.

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

The artificial leg was made by the Prostheses Foundation, which also makes artificial limbs for humans.

Soraida’s group established the Elephant Hospital in northern Thailand, where Motola was being treated, in 1993.

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