By Taniya Dutta
These are the heart-warming images of an elephant who lost his leg in a poacher’s snare loving life – after being gifted a new prosthetic leg by a charity.
Chhouk the elephant was found close to death by charity workers a decade ago, wandering in the forest in northeast Cambodia with a gravely infected wound and severely malnourished, when he was just a year old.
He was rescued by Nick Marx of Wildlife Alliance Rescue and Care after being cared for in the forest for two weeks, tethered to a rope from his neck.
Chhouk, named after lotus in Cambodian, has since been given prosthetics by Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics (CSPO), to help him walk.
And his rescuers say that he loves the foot so much that he now gets angry if he ISN’T wearing it.
Nick said: ”He is now uncomfortable without it. He gets angry if he cannot wear it. If he gets a sore on his stump, which happens now and again due to friction or dirt getting inside the shoe, and he cannot wear the prosthesis he gets irritable.
“The new design is lighter, stronger, and quicker for our staff to change. The new shoe quickly got Chhouk’s approval and he was running around his enclosure within minutes of trying on the new shoe
Chhouk was found with serious injuries and Nick said when he saw him he couldn’t believe if the baby elephant would survive but Chhouk’s amazing journey to not just healing but also growing into an adult has made him a celebrity in the country.
Chhouk is let out of his night stall each morning and throughout the day, his two caretakers look after his daily needs and take care of his foot besides being fed regularly leaves, branches, cane tips, bananas, grass, or coconuts.
“He is the first elephant in Cambodia to receive a prosthesis and is celebrated as a successful rescue story.
“Our elephant keepers have trained Chhouk using only reward based positive reinforcement in order to effectively change his prosthetic leg.He will not be fed until his shoe has been changed as we need him to be a little hungry for him to do as we require.
“He spends his day with Lucky (another elephant) in his large outside enclosure. In the evening his damaged leg is inspected again, the shoe changed and he is inside for the night for his own safety,” Nick said.
Speaking of the rescue, Nick said he was anxious if Chhouk would survive as his condition was weak.
“I rescued him in March 2007 and he was probably around 1.5 years old then.
“He was in a bad way and seemed sure to die. He was badly injured and so very thin. It seemed only his fighting spirit was keeping him upright.
“The WWF team had captured Chhouk, meaning Lotus, named after their patrol station and had tethered him around the neck to a tree – a sensible decision to stop him wandering off.”
Chhouk was fed whatever forest food the little one would eat but there were neither medical facilities, nor the expertise to cope with such a serious problem.
He was sedated, treated and his injured leg bandaged before being transported to Phnom Tamao through a treacherous track out of the forest.
“I was extremely worried for the track was rocky and undulating. If Chhouk fell he could injure himself further,” Nick said.
“To gain his trust, our rescuers cared for him in the forest for two weeks before transporting him to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center where specialists were able to heal his wounds.”
26 hours later, Chhouk was lifted into one of the stalls in the elephant house of Wildlife Alliance Rescue and Care. He had lost the bottom part of his leg to a snare, the constriction cutting off the blood sufficiently to kill the flesh below.
Nick said, “We sedated him each week, his wound was cleaned, small fragments of bone and damaged tissue were removed and the leg was re‐bandage.
“The healing powers of wild animals can be amazing and each week when we undressed the leg we could almost see the skin re‐growing down the leg and around the under‐side of the remaining stump until it was completely healed, with the skin finally covering the entire area once again.”