Here at sanctuary we are often fighting an uphill battle when it comes to caring for our elephants. We often receive beings that are severely compromised, both physically and emotionally, from a lifetime that hasn’t met their basic needs as a species.
After decades of improper space, substrate, diet and socialization, we are left to nurture their bodies and try to return them back to health. …they are fighters
Guida is no different. Don’t worry, she is fine, but pre-existing foot issues are beginning to show. With many captive elephants, once they are given varied soft substrate and are able to soak their feet, their skin softens allowing deeper foot issues to come to the surface.
To make this statement a little more tangible, we’ll give an example. Bunny the elephant came from a zoo where she lived in a cement enclosure. She had a small cement ‘pond’ but the zoo decided to keep it empty. They did this because they believed the water was contributing to foot infections since when she would go in the water, abscesses would rupture through the skin of her feet. The reality was the water wasn’t causing the infection; it was simply softening the skin and allowing it to escape- which is actually a positive thing.
Guida has many extra layers of pad on the bottom of her foot as a result of years of not being trimmed. These layers trap bacteria and feces as one layer creates a shelf over the other. This can result in infections that travel inward because they are unable to escape outward. The outermost layers on Guida’s feet are also very unhealthy. Instead of being firm, they are spongy and full of small air holes as a result of standing in a damp yard for years, contaminated with her own waste.
The other day, Guida started to show that her back right foot was sore. The girls have only been here for a couple of weeks and aren’t well versed in presenting their feet for trimming, but we needed to take a look and see what was going on. We walked her into one of the exits to the barn stalls and closed her in to see if she would allow us to get a look.
Guida was a champ, a little anxious at first, but did fabulously well. She picked up on what we were asking her for pretty quickly and somewhat reluctantly started to lift her back foot so we could examine it. At first glance there was nothing super obvious that would be causing her pain, but her pads were a mess. Scott was checking for foreign bodies (a rock trapped within the layers, or a stick imbedded into the abnormally soft tissue) but couldn’t find any. To try and examine things a little further, Scott decided to try to trim some of the excess pad away.
Again, Guida was stellar. This is all new to her. The concept of being rewarded for doing what she is asked, moving towards a target instead of away from negative stimuli is very different. Also standing for footwork is new, most circus elephants have footwork done while lying down and she obviously hasn’t had any done in years. She would pull her foot back from time to time, but was good about returning it after a moment and only gave us ‘crazy foot’ a couple of times.
One of the things we need to be careful with in newly arrived elephants is not over trimming their feet. It is almost instinctual to want to fix it all, but not only can this cause pain, but it can damage the integrity of the foot as well. This is a technique that was used in the past, but had proven time and time again to be detrimental to the elephant. With this in mind, Scott restrained himself and trimmed what could comfortably be done in order for to work towards healthy feet in the future.
Guida is still presenting as being a little sore, and has received some treatment for this, but unfortunately it is expected. The layer of pad that is exposed after trimming is initially somewhat soft. It takes a couple of days for it to harden into a more healthy texture. We did not find any foreign body, and Scott touched and retouched everywhere. It is a possibility that a piece of the spongy pad ripped off, causing pain and exposing raw tissue. Her overall foot condition is something we will obviously be keeping a close eye on.
The second photo is her foot before any trimming. You can see how thick the layers are and the cracks that allow bacteria to become trapped. The first photo shows the piece that most likely was pulled off and caused her some discomfort. The last photo is her foot after the first session of trimming. The healthier tissue is what appears lighter in color. It is what it should all look like when trimmed, but does not. Instead of nicely cutting away, the spongy pad pulls, making it difficult to trim- Guida was truly great with all of it. The trust she has displayed with everything we are doing with her is phenomenal. We are incredibly lucky and grateful.