The very act of changing an elephant’s environment and welcoming them to sanctuary can be enough to change the state of their health, particularly when the elephant is coming from an unfit environment. We have seen this happen time and again. An emotional change begins to happen very quickly, while physically, the body gradually comes back into balance over time.
Many issues in captivity might lead to an early death in elephants, because so often those environments don’t meet their basic needs. A healthy elephant should be grazing for 15-18 hours a day, walking on natural substances like dirt, mud, wet areas, and dry areas (instead of concrete and sand). The combination of those varied surfaces nurtures their feet in a way that would happen in nature. The fact that this doesn’t often happen in captivity means that foot problems are common. The combination of foot infection, osteomyelitis, and arthritis make foot and joint issues one of the leading causes of death in captive elephants.
We examine each elephant’s feet here at ESB and some maintenance is required; more care is necessary for elephants like Lady, while less might be needed for Maia, whose feet are in a better state. But the mere environment here can improve their feet and reduce the amount of footwork they need. We take detailed before and after pictures of the elephants and make medical notes each time we work on their feet in order to evaluate their progress and keep them in their records..
The photos of Bambi’s feet immediately after her arrival, accompanied by fairly recent photos, show a remarkable amount of improvement of her cuticles and overall foot health. Her foot pads are wearing properly and her nails are being worked down by digging in the dirt and using them to cut grass. This is a simple concept, but one that is sadly missing from so many captive environments. Sanctuary gives elephants what their bodies need. While Bambi still has a ways to go with her emotional healing, it is encouraging to see that many of the physical issues we were concerned about before arrival were merely a product of her captive life, and not anything that required significant medical intervention. Nature itself can help some issues resolve themselves. There is simply no substitute for it.
These photos of Bambi’s feet speak for themselves.