The baby elephant O’Rang was gradually regaining her health since being confiscated in July from a family holding her as a pet and using her as a tourist attraction.
Yet O’Rang suffered a setback when she fell and fractured her femur bone at Phnom Tamao Zoological Gardens and Wildlife Rescue Center in Takeo province.
O’Rang was unable to stand, her muscles began to atrophy, and her body bloated from the pressure of her weight on internal organs and from a lack of blood circulation.
She lay like that for 14 days, according to center officials. The center, lacking the necessary equipment and personnel to diagnose the injury, became desperate for help, calling one zoo after another.
Their calls were answered after the Zoological Park Association, a group representing five Thai zoos, arrived last Monday to construct a “walker” for the injured elephant and volunteer the services of their “Mobile Clinic.”
Chisanu Tiyacheroensri, a Thai veterinarian, said the device has been constructed for dogs and cats in the past, “but this is the first time we’ve designed it for an elephant.”
The group of eight rushed to Poipet Saturday only to find the border closed. The next day, they were stopped by customs because they didn’t have official clearance for their vehicles, they said.
Finally, half the team hired a truck and pushed on to Battambang town before realizing their equipment would be pulverized on the rough road and they’d have to do without it—flying the remainder of the trip.
The Thais said last week it was in their best interest to intervene to promote future exchanges between the zoos and diversify the gene pool of their animals in captivity, and also to foster a commitment in protecting the animals of the region.
The 14-month-old elephant was taken in July by the Wildlife Protection Office from Ratanakkiri province, where she was being kept as a pet by a village family and used as an attraction for tourists who paid to ride on her back. She was fed only bananas, which stunted her bone development, and the rides crippled her back.
Her mother was likely shot by poachers said Kit Whitney, director of Save Cambodia’s Wildlife, which provides technical assistance to the center. “The bonds in an elephant herd are so strong that you literally have to kill the mother to separate them.”
Representatives from Phnom Tamao met last week with King Norodom Sihanouk who pledged to push for stronger laws protecting wildlife and vowed to support the center in its efforts to aid the animals, Whitney said.
As for O’Rang, the 120 kg elephant is showing signs of improvement, center officials said. Ideally, an elephant might recover in a month from a similar injury, but considering her age and weakened bone structure, a full recovery could take six months.
Still, members of the Thai Mobile Clinic and staff at the center are cautiously optimistic the baby elephant will make a full recovery and they express hope for O’Rang.
“There are many things you can do to help,” says Whitney. “It is everyone’s responsibility to conserve Cambodia’s natural resources.”