Because several elephants at sanctuary have experienced skin issues, and we have received numerous questions, we are focusing this week’s EleFACT on skin health and how it impacts overall health.
Though an elephant’s skin is thick, it is also sensitive to the elements. In the wild, or in proper habitats, they can use mud or dust baths to protect themselves from the sun. Mud and dust can also keep the skin flexible and in good condition. Elephants who don’t have access to those things can develop skin problems like calluses, dermatitis, ulcers, and hyperkeratosis (thickness of the outer layer of skin). Those who spend significant time indoors can see these problems amplified when skin dries out. Studies show that opportunities for bathing, wallowing, dusting, and scratching can prevent many common captive skin ailments.
Elephants who stand or lie on hard surfaces can experience skin irritation, lesions, or abscesses – which we have seen with some elephants here. When bony areas like those on the hip or face come into contact with solid substrate, like floors or walls, problems can emerge and need treatment for an extended amount of time.
Bambi, who arrived with a thick layer of dead skin, needed about a year to shed all of it – and now her skin is beautiful. But it required lots of natural intervention and plenty of baths to resolve itself. After shedding dead skin, a layer of not-quite-healthy skin emerges before you finally see a layer of normal and robust skin. Pocha arrived with significant skin issues, including a fungal infection on her tail, which we began treating soon after her arrival. Pocha and Guillermina have similar skin issues to those we saw with Bambi (though not as severe), but we are seeing gradual improvement. It will continue to get better now that they have access to all of the natural elements the sanctuary provides and that they are meant to have as a species in the natural world. Skin issues have a slow healing process and, although medical intervention is necessary in many cases to get things heading in the right direction, nature is often the best long-term medicine.
Photo of Bambi and her lovely skin