Mosha the elephant, a permanent resident of the hospital run by the Friends of the Asian Elephant foundation in Thailand, is the first elephant ever to receive an effective and functional prosthetic leg.
In Thailand and much of Southeast Asia, elephants hold deep historic and symbolic meaning. Elephants were revered as the property of kings, and white elephants were considered sacred. They were domesticated as far back as 3300 BC and used as instruments of ᴡᴀʀ and draft animals.
Today, this legacy is exploited and elephants comprise a large part of ꜰᴏʀᴄᴇᴅ ᴀɴɪᴍᴀʟ ʟᴀʙᴏᴜʀ in Southeast Asia, typically used to haul timber in the logging industry. Some sᴜꜰꜰᴇʀ ᴀᴅᴅɪᴄᴛion to ᴀᴍᴘʜᴇᴛᴀᴍɪɴᴇs, which they’re fed to continue working late into the night. After a lifetime of work, when they become too old for physical labour, they are often sent to “elephant sanctuaries”, where they continue working by entertaining tourists.
Mosha could have had a similar fate. Mosha was only 7 months old when she arrived at the FAE and had lost her front leg to a ʟᴀɴᴅᴍɪɴᴇ on Thailand’s border with Myanmar. She was attempting to compensate without the use of her limb by raising her trunk and leaning on other structures for support, but it was obvious that this would become increasingly difficult as she grew.
When Mosha was two years old, she caught the eye of Dr. Therdchai Jivacate, an orthopedic surgeon, humanitarian, inventor and winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Aᴡᴀʀd (considered Asia’s highest honour for selfless service) in 2008 for his innovative, charitable work in prosthetics.
Dr. Jivacate applied his 40-plus years of knowledge in human prosthetics to design the world’s first elephant prosthesis. His work with Mosha has provided unique lessons in prosthetic design and the abilities of cost-effective resources when put to the test.
“One day about eight years ago, I went to visit Motala [another ᴀᴍᴘᴜᴛee elephant at the elephant hospital] and I happened to see Mosha,” recalls Dr. Jivacate. “She had lost her right forefoot, and I noticed that she had a ᴄᴜʀᴠᴇᴅ sᴘɪɴᴇ, caused by carrying all her weight on one foot.”
He noticed that the knee joint in her good foreleg had become ᴄᴜʀᴠᴇᴅ and ᴅᴀᴍᴀɢᴇᴅ, and the cartilage was becoming ᴡᴏʀɴ ᴅᴏᴡɴ on one side. “If the cartilage was ᴅᴇsᴛʀᴏʏᴇᴅ, she wouldn’t be able to walk,” he says. “We decided that we should do something.”
With Dr. Jivacate’s help, Mosha received her first, functional prosthetic limb when she was two-and-a-half years old. Her new leg not only allowed her to walk again, it also made the difference between life and ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ. At the time of her ɪɴᴊᴜʀʏ, Mosha weighed about 1,300 pounds. Now, she weighs over 4,400 pounds.
Today, Mosha is a permanent resident at the elephant hospital, cared for daily by her mahout, or elephant trainer, Palahdee. She spends most of her time eating, walking, napping, bathing, and interacting with Palahdee.
“We’re trying to replace what they lost, and we’re just trying to make Mosha’s life a happy one.”
Every time she wakes up or goes to sleep, Palahdee and another mahout help her into or out of her prosthesis, which weighs about 20 kilograms. First, they cover Mosha’s stump with talcum powder, then Palahdee puts on her special sock. Finally, he fits her leg into the prosthetic socket and secures it with buckles. Mosha trusts Palahdee more than anyone. “We’re very close,” Palahdee says. “We’re like father and daughter.”
Although Mosha will never be able to live unassisted, her prosthetic leg continues to save her life as she grows. With proper care, she could have a long life ahead of her: Asian elephants can live to be 60 years old.