EleFact Friday: The Skin They’re In

A few of the elephants at Elephant Sanctuary Brazil have wounds that are currently healing and which are healing slowly. Several of you asked about the injuries that Lady endured, and that Rana, and Bambi have been dealing with, so we thought as this week’s EleFact Friday we’d talk about what researchers say about elephant skin and wounds. 

According to established data, the skin of an Asian elephant is very thick, measuring about 2.5 to approximately 4 cm (or possibly more). In the wild, fewer opportunities for the types of chronic infections captivity causes occur and, if they do, elephants use mud and slush to cover their skin to retain moisture and protection from UV- rays. The elephant’s skin does not have sebaceous glands, which produce sebum, an oily substance that protects the skin. 

Both in the wild and in captivity (though particularly prevalent in captivity), any injuries may result in abscesses that could become chronic. The latent period of those abscesses could be weeks or it could be months or years. Unfortunately for captive elephants, those injuries can result from laying on hard surfaces like cement floors, hitting against hard chains or ropes, chains, or other abusive practices. Surgery is rarely a solution, as the stitches used to secure the incision are no match for the weight of an elephant’s internal organs or, in our case, the age of our residents prevents a safe surgery. 

As with Lady’s face abscess, Bambi’s face wound, and Rana’s foot and elbow, problems need immediate and thorough attention. That’s why, in photos, you might have seen a white paste on Lady’s face or noticed a topical medicine on one of the other elephants. Abscesses can take years to heal or, in some cases, need medical attention for the rest of the elephant’s life.  Unfortunately, both Rana and Lady’s wounds were years old when they arrived, and, when left untreated, became more difficult to ever fully resolve. We don’t know ahead of rescues just how bad each girl’s injury is (for instance, we knew Lady’s feet were in terrible shape, but we did not know she had a forehead wound or a facial abscess), but we are committed to the healing of the physical in addition to the emotional issues each elephant must overcome.

Photo of Rana after her morning treatment


  1. REPLY
    Susan Flewelling says

    Would the heat contribute to the slow healing?

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      It doesn’t seem to be a factor here, no.

  2. REPLY
    Terry says

    Is laser treatment beneficial for these abcesses, topicals, or both? Fascinating information once again. Thanks!

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      We do use laser therapies, yes.

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