The Next Step for Lady: Footwork Tools


There are a handful of tools used to work on an elephant’s foot – like a rasp, a hoof knife (not as scary as it sounds!), and a router. These are mostly farrier tools, meant for horse hooves, that work well on the nails and pads of an elephant’s feet.

Teaching Lady to present her feet is only half of what is needed – the second half is for her to leave her feet there while we file, trim, and touch all over. Most species tend to be sensitive about others touching their feet, likely because feet are vital for survival, both in the wild and in captivity, and they’re sensitive. Foot disease is one of the leading causes of death in captive elephants, and Lady’s feet are in atrocious condition, even by captive standards.

Lady has been getting better and more consistent in presenting her feet when asked (thanks to her love of treats and verbal praise). This means it’s time to start introducing some of the footwork tools, while we work on getting her to extend the time of her foot presents.

Rather than try it while she presents her foot on a bar and feels more unsure at this point, we tried it with her feet on the ground. Kat brought the rasp (it looks like – and functions as – an oversized metal nail file) over and touched it to Lady’s feet. She didn’t seem to mind, so Kat tried the next step and gently moved it back and forth. Again, it works like a giant nail file, so, while it doesn’t hurt, it does vibrate a little and feels a bit peculiar while it drags.

The goal wasn’t to make any progress on her feet, but just to see how she would react and respond. Excitingly, she didn’t do either. She seemed to be more comfortable with the left foot than with the right foot, but she kept both her feet still while the rasp was touching them. She earned some big rewards and a lot of praise. This shows Lady’s growing trust in us – which is an essential step to working on her feet.

Photo: A silly picture of Lady having a blast in the spray of the water hose.

For those interested in seeing what the foot tools we use look like, you can see them (and even help purchase a few!) on our Elephant Wishlist →

March 31, 2020


  1. REPLY
    Barb says

    Oh how I remember how our horse, Lord Nelson, did a funny little dance that the farrier really disliked. So Lady is a rock star by letting you introduce the rasp. Good job, Lady!

  2. REPLY
    Julie says

    I noticed in the video from today’s previous post when Lady was startled while at the second pond, the sound of Scott’s voice seemed to calm her down immediately. It is huge to have trust of her humans. Love it. Also, would you let us know how many of the tool kits you’ll need? I don’t know how quickly you go through them, and it looks like a few have been purchased already today.

    • REPLY
      EleComposer says

      A rasp is good for a few months of regular use. The square blades have to be replaced every few sessions so they don’t pull. The hoof knives depend on the thickness of the pad/nail you are working on. And sometimes you can re-sharpen them. They are good for a few months usually.

      If it’s just maintenance footwork like on Maia and Rana, a rasp can last about 9 months, but you always want to make sure all of your tools stay sharp so you don’t cause unnecessary pain.

  3. REPLY
    Heidi says

    Awesome job building her trust. That picture is delightful

  4. REPLY
    Jean says

    So good to hear regarding Lady’s trust. It appears she really has come a long way. I’m sure she appreciates her feet being worked on.
    Maybe she has figured out that everyone is yhere to help her feet get better. Thank you for all you do for lady and the other girls.

  5. REPLY
    carey says

    This is so good to hear. Well done all! I look forward to updates,

  6. REPLY
    Rosie P says

    Fabulous!! Well done to all! Lady is progressing and this time towards important work on her feet. So proud of Lady.
    I’m happy to help in the purchase of these vital foot tools….so have done so ! Go, Lady, Go!

  7. REPLY
    Sallie Robbins-Druian says

    Thank you Team Lady, and Scott for your dedication, love and devotion to our beloved Lady! We can tell she trusts and adores you ALL! Her comfort and happiness is so important to us!

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