Elephant Sanctuary Brazil was recently gifted a portable radiography system by an incredibly generous donor; this is an expensive x-ray system that we would never have been able to afford on our own at this time, considering our current expansion plans. The radiographic equipment will allow us to examine the state of each elephant’s feet, which is important, since foot and joint disease are among the leading causes of elephant death in captivity. Of course, we will be using it to track the progression of disease in Lady’s feet, but we can also look closely at every other elephant’s feet. While we’d like to believe that Lady is the only elephant here who suffers from foot disease, elephants are incredibly stoic and are masters at masking their pain. And just because a foot looks healthy on the outside does not mean it is healthy internally.
We can also use the machine to x-ray the other sick or injured animals at the sanctuary. We have already used it on some chickens and a wild bird we were rehabbing, and were able to examine Milo on a day when he was recently ill. Having this capability is extremely valuable when it comes to wildlife, since it is often impossible to bring them 3 hours into the city for an x-ray without significant stress, which can be detrimental to a wild animal. Should we need to use it on any of our residents in an emergency, it is nice to know we will have that technology available.
Lady was our elephant assistant as we tested out the machine since she has the most experience with presenting her feet – and she had a wonderful attitude throughout. She had to present both of her front feet a number of times and at different angles, at different training areas inside of the barn. Scott welded a holder for the x-ray plate because, not only does the elephant’s foot have to be placed in the same precise position each time, but that plate also has to be carefully situated at the same location for every scan. This is the only way we can ensure that we get consistent results with each use. Of course, Lady got plenty of treats and lots of praise throughout the process and probably would have continued on if we’d asked.
Our team talked to a technician who works for the x-ray company, consulting with other facilities that perform elephant x-rays, and he was able to offer some suggestions on how things might be improved. We know that Lady’s feet (and potentially the feet of other elephants here) won’t be healed, but understanding their current state and how that may change over time can help us to make the best decisions about how to care for her moving forward.
Again, many thanks to our generous donor, whose gift will be a valuable tool for us for many years to come.
Photo of Lady presenting her foot for a treatment in the habitat.