My friend Raju Khan informed over phone that his female elephant “Jone” performing tourism duty in Kaziranga National Park (KNP) has a swollen foreleg. There was no known history of injury. The park was just opened for tourists on 2nd of Oct. and the fields were still muddy. I thought it could be a “picked up thorn” piercing her foot from the bottom in the mud and as he examined her leg, he saw a small hole at the bottom of the sole, near the middle toe nail. I suggested to get her Tetanus prophylaxis immediately and get the injury examined by a vet for any embedded foreign body. Raju later told me that the Vet only administered an antibiotic and did not advance to check her foot. So, I decided to undertake a trip to KNP the next day, i.e. on 19.10.2017 which happened to be a Sunday.
The drive to KNP is about 220 km and on our way, Raju told me that he saw another female elephant near KNP by the road the previous day with an abscess over the middle toenail of one of the hind leg. Incidentally we met the cow, named “Champa”. She was around 50 and appeared weak. She was lame because of the foot condition and was probably not getting enough to eat, as her movements were restricted by the painful leg. She was brought for the tourism duty but as the park vet rejected her for the disease and she was just dumped. I offered her some fruits and then commandeered the cow to a lateral recumbency by the side of the road and examined her foot.
There was a sinus connecting an abscess over the toenail, the abscess apparently developed due to a punctured wound and a foreign body carrying infection to deeper and sensitive tissues. I debrided the necrotic tissues from the solar approach and cleared the passage for drainage, applied sterile gauze dipped in tincture of iodine and prescribed an antibiotic. I did not find any foreign body. The condition appeared to be curable, but will need regular antiseptic dressing and antibiotic treatment. Will they do it? And what about the likely thorn, is it still there deeply embedded into tissues or did it drop out? Probably an X-ray would tell, but how to get it done?
Then we went to the Bagori range camp of KNP, where Jone was stationed. Her stance was indicative of a lame left foreleg, which was moderately swollen. After patting her and offering some sweet fruits I made her lie down. As I approached to examine her injured leg, she began to move it sideways, back and forth. I understood it was painful, so decided to administer anaesthesia. As she was anaesthetized I prepared the area (just under the middle toe, 2-3 inches into the solar pad) for a reasonably clean surgery by washing with potassium permanganate solution and then with povidone iodine.
After administering some local anesthetics, I examined the hole which was very small, I widened it, explored the cavity and as suspected found a small piece half churned piece of hard grass, about an inch in length. After removing the same, further exploration did not reveal any more part of it. I irrigated the cavity with Hydrogen peroxide and administered a course of antibiotics.
Meanwhile the other elephant of the camp, Rangili also arrived. I also made her to lie down and trimmed the elongated toe-nails and treated her abraded neck, injured by the neck rope. Both the elephants received shots of vitamins and essential minerals.
After completing here, I went to visit Kalita’s camp, where 8 elephants are kept. Since my visit was not announced, only one elephant, (She was also another Champa-40yrs) was there, she just returned from grazing and for fetching their fodder. She developed a nasty pododermatitis condition known here as Karry, which I trimmed to expose the infections and then applied antiseptics. Prescribed 5% formaline for a regular foot bath.
This year 42 privately owned captive elephants have come to the tourism fields of KNP. They will be kept here till May-June, 2018. I know most of them will have medical problems, they need to be attended, dewormed, vaccinated and foot care administered. Handlers also required to be educated how to keep the elephants clean and fed in the conditions alien to their own places.