Therdchai Jivacate is a surgeon and inventor who has made over 20,000 prosthetic legs over the course of his career. Though he started out helping impoverished people and small animals like dogs, cats, and birds, in recent years he’s begun tackling a more challenging issue: constructing prosthetics large and durable enough to help crippled elephants walk again.
He created his first elephant-sized prosthetic after meeting Mosha, a tame two year old elephant who had lost her right foreleg in a landmine explosion. Working with the Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation, Jivacate undertook a lengthy process of trial and error before hitting on the perfect design: a thermoplastic, steel, and elastomer limb designed to allow fluid movement and comfortably cradle Mosha’s injured stump.
At first, Jivacate told Vice’s Motherboard blog, Mosha would try to remove the prosthetic limb with her trunk, but she quickly became used to its presence, learning to walk with her fake leg in just 12 hours. In the past six years, she’s gone through nine different prosthetic forelegs as she has continued to grow larger and heavier. Mosha now weighs about 2,000 kg (4,400 lbs), so Jivacante and his team have continued to search for newer materials that will hold up better under her weight.
Mosha isn’t the only injured elephant at the Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation. The organization’s elephant hospital has treated more than 4,000 elephants over the past 23 years, most of them outpatient, but the more severely injured elephants they come across have been adopted as full-time residents of the hospital. Mosha currently lives with four other full-time residents and her keeper, who lives in an adjacent room.
Images via Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation