The State of Guille’s Feet

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.


  1. REPLY
    Barb says

    Oh my, I have wondered about her feet given her past history on terrible surfaces. I am so hopeful the condition of her feet will improve. Now they you can more closely evaluate her feet, perhaps the road to better days lies ahead. Bless her sweet heart!

  2. REPLY
    Nancy says

    Greatly appreciate this tutorial on Guile’s feet. I assume the conditions described here are also present in other eles kept in conditions similar to what Guile experienced. It breaks my heart to think of the pain and discomfort captive elephants endure in inappropriate environments. If only they could all be in sanctuaries.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      All elephants respond differently to their situations. You might have two elephants that come from the same environment and one has healthy feet, while the other has terrible feet. A lot of it appears to be genetic, based on our experience.

  3. REPLY
    Luanne L Schick says

    Banish all zoo’s! Captivity of animals. Sanctuary’s are the only way to give elephants 🐘 peace, happiness, serenity, friendships with other elephants 🐘.
    I don’t go to or support zoo’s, aquarium, circus. Nothing to do with live animals. Leave them free. As they were born. Too be free. Period!

  4. REPLY
    Alana says

    Interesting! I hope her being younger will help in achieving healthy feet.

  5. REPLY
    Wim says

    Looks horrible.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      It definitely could be worse.

  6. REPLY
    Kenneth B. Newman says

    Thank you for a very good MORE scientific explanation of the medical issues that cause elephants problems in walking, and just living, when they live on surfaces that injure their feet……

    we need MORE explanations of elephant issues presented in this way.

  7. REPLY
    Rand says

    She will get better with time and your care. Given where she’s been for so many years this is unfortunate but not surprising. I know with your knowledge and caring she will be fine

  8. REPLY
    Carey says

    Thank you for this extremely helpful post. I’ve been watching something called Elephant Care Unchained on YouTube, a series of videos by a man going round Asia especially to the Temple elephants to do work on their poor feet. For free. The conditions he has to work in sometimes are very trying, but my goodness some of the elephants feet are just horrifying. Any news on Tamy would be welcome if you can.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      We don’t have anything new to report on Tamy right now.

  9. REPLY
    Julie says

    Very happy she is now being cared for at ESB. Can you tell us if she’s lost weight? I imagine less weight would be a benefit to the health of her feet?

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      She has lost weight and is gaining muscle, which is wonderful!

  10. REPLY
    Debbie Sides says

    I was wondering about the condition of her feet. So glad she’s living there and getting the treatment she needs. She can heal and have “happy feet” 💚

  11. REPLY
    Tammy says

    Wow, not good at all but at least now she gets all the T.L.C. she deserves!

  12. REPLY
    Patricia says

    Oh, my Guille. So grateful you are getting this treatment now and living the blessings of sanctuary life. 💖💖💖

  13. REPLY
    Terry says

    This is so fascinating and informative. I’d love to know what you use to clean out these ” tunnels” or pockets; what tool and what solution?
    Guille is in great hands! Her progress is exceptional!

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      We use many of the same kinds of tools used on horses.

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