The state of an elephant’s feet tells part of the story of their lives. Pads, toenails, cuticles – all of these things can quickly reveal to a caregiver that an individual has lived and stood on inappropriate, non-natural surfaces, in unclean environments for years, even decades. It’s a window into the type of life an elephant has experienced.
What we are seeing now with regard to Guillermina’s feet bears out what we already knew about her history: that she had no access to natural surfaces, no room to roam, and no foot care in her life before sanctuary. Once we were able to assess her feet, we were able to confirm that the lack of these things prior to sanctuary has caused some damage. Until she came to sanctuary, she was not trained to present her foot for care, so she’s only now receiving trimming and treatments that can help her heal.
As with most things, foot care is a step-by-step process, so we are concentrating on working on her front feet to begin with while we train her to present her back feet. Her nails are overgrown and her pads are overgrown, which creates a pocket of sorts that traps all kinds of unclean material just behind the nail, like the dirt and feces that Guille stood in inside her former underground enclosure. One of the things we’re seeing right now in some of her nails are channels that run from the bottom to the top where things are trapped. As we continue with her footwork, it’s almost certain that we will uncover more pockets and areas that need further treatment.
Though we’ve discovered no signs that Guille’s feet will look anything like Lady’s, we can only imagine what they might have looked like after more years living in an inappropriate setting. As of now, we may see the results of her living conditions reveal themselves through her feet for years to come.
Below, we include some photographs of Guille’s feet to help with understanding. Some of the photos in the collage are from November of last year, but show what we are talking about more clearly than recent pictures, which record her feet after many sessions of trimming. To be clear, what we are seeing with her feet is nothing new; this is all a product of her time before sanctuary. With every elephant’s arrival, it is always part of our job to try to improve their condition both emotionally and physically, and feet are a significant element of their physical compromise when they come to sanctuary.
The pink arrows are all areas that should not be open, but the space that is created has allowed bacteria and debris to get trapped under layers that then grow over it, causing the infection/issues to burrow deeper within the foot. The purple arrows point to the somewhat superficial track that can be seen through the surface of her nail, and runs all of the way to the top of the nail. What appears like holes on the other nails looks like this when you open it up to clean it and work on it.