I made a promise to an elephant in Sri Lanka!

We are in a predicament.  We may not write explicitly, by name or location, about our favorite elephant , because we await “official approval” from the pertinent Ministry.  Therefore, until we receive the go ahead, we will not refer to our elephant friend by name.

For those of you who have followed our story about this baby elephant, which started in Sri Lanka last year, you will know of whom we speak…

Peta has been restless and excited now for days.  We have worked toward this day for months. Her thoughts and attention frequently return to this baby elephant, who grabbed our hearts one year ago. Peta made a promise to this elephant, and to herself, to do whatever we could to help him.

And now, a reunion is hours away…

In the year since we were here last, we have grappled with the thought of what we could do to help this little elephant who, when just a few months old, lost one of his hind legs to a poacher’s trap. When we met him, he was already too big for his make-shift wooden prosthetic leg.

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Here he is, a year ago when we first met him. He has the wooden prosthetic leg on his back left leg.

We came to Chicago in April 2015, with an explicit intention to figure out a solution that could provide a durable support for this elephant.  Keeping in mind that young elephants grow at an impressive speed and therefore the dimensions and weight bearing needs of a prosthetic leg would have to continuously be updated over the next 10-15 years.

After some in depth investigation of possible prosthetic solutions in the animal kingdom  we settled on a strategy to identify and team with 3D printing experts.

To make a very long story short ~ and condense hours of research and and lot of meetings with people across the U.S. ~ into a few lines for the purpose of the story of this blog post…

We now have a robust team of U.S. professionals who are 3D printing experts and enthusiasts and veterinarians with signfiicant prosthetics experience.

Part of Ben’s strategy is to try and connect the prosthetic needs of this elephant to a much larger national problem in Sri Lanka ~ which is the need for human prosthetics.

After a civil war that lasted decades, there is a large population of amputees, officially reported to number about 180,000.

If we can come up with a 3D printing solution for one elephant, perhaps the same technology can have massive impact with humans too. Consequently, we add to our U.S. team, several medical doctors with experience and expertise in human prosthetics.

While in Colombo, Ben finally manages to reach and speak with the leading authority for human prosthetics.  It is during one of these conversations with this prosthetics expert, when he mentions that he has previously made a prosthetic leg for an elephant before, with success, in Cambodia!  Now things are starting to get really exciting! And furthermore, he is actually coincidentally currently working on a prosthetic for a baby elephant in need in Sri Lanka!

This is a huge and wonderful surprise!  How strange and amazing that the human prosthetics expert we contact just happens to be working through the technical challenges of fitting a young elephant with a leg, at this very point in time.

Ben and I look at each other and say “Why re-invent the wheel?!”.

If this doctor has already had success with an elephant, we should change the strategy and switch to something tried and tested.

We are eager to hear about this other elephant in Sri Lanka.  It seems like such a coincidence that two baby elephants both need a prosthetic leg and are about to hopefully received one in the coming days.

And here is the punchline of the story… Get this….!

“Their” elephant is “our” elephant!  One and the same.

Wow… what are the odds that we would connect with this very person and that the first leg fitting is scheduled for the very week when we are here in Sri Lanka for the purpose of having a prosthetic leg made at the same time.

The universe works is mysterious and wonderful ways.

A date is set.

Ben and I will meet the Sri Lankan team at the location where the said elephant is living,  to attend and help in any way might be able to, the first fitting for the baby elephant of his new prosthetic leg.

As we head south from Tissa Lake, we are keeping our eyes open for a stall on the side of the road to buy some treats for “you know who”.  We remember how much he savored eating watermelon last time, and are hoping watermelon is currently in season.  We pleasantly surprise a small street vendor when we buy out every single watermelon on her small wooden stand.

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Buying elephant treats !

As we go to sleep that night, in a lovely guest-house near where “you know who” lives, Peta can barely contain her excitement.

We are both very firm believers that if you can help one animal, or one person,  then that is impact.  While we often discuss global problems and potential solutions together, and are naturally “geared” to use business for broad impact (such as what we did in Nicaragua, having impact for 150 Mayagna families with bamboo housing), there is much to be said about taking action even if the impacted population is but ONE.

And an AWFULLY cute ONE!

Another fascinating twist to the story is that the Sri Lankan effort to help our friend is led by Rapti, a Sri Lankan woman, animal advocate who did her thesis on elephant behavior.  I point out to Peta that Rapti is clearly her Sri Lankan “soul sister”.  Minds and hearts in the same place.  Rapti has organized a funding effort in Sri Lanka, much like Peta did in Chicago.  And it’s in the small things too ~ as Peta lugs her large box of watermelons, Rapti opens the back of her car, and it’s full of bananas. She turns and says….. “treats for our baby!”.


You can see how much our friend has grown. Still adorably cute, but much less mobile due to his increased weight.


Who knew a baby elephant could grow so much in one year?

Because he is much larger, therefore heavier, his problems both physical and social, have significantly increased.  We are told that he is very frustrated with his inability to keep up with his peers and therefore spends much of his time alone.  He clearly is in desperate need of a robust prosthetic leg that can give him some increased semblance of mobility.

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The team getting ready ~ discussing how they are going to attempt to lift the elephant so as to measure and try out the first prosthetic form.

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On the left, you can see the prosthetic for the fitting. This photo is taken from behind the elephant and you can see how his back is unsupported due to his handicap.

The watermelons we bought along the way turs out to be vital to the fitting process.  Peta’s role is to distract “you know who” while a team of veterinarians and orthopedist specialists work to lift his hind leg to measure and fit the composite piece ~ not an easy task given how much he now weighs! It actually entails lifting the whole back side of his body.

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He is definitely NOT shy and is quite strong and can be aggressive. The treats are timed carefully to be there as needed, but paced to not run out before the job is done.

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As Peta bends to get more fruit, the elephants trunk goes down as well to the same level.

Watermelon is streaming down the sides of you know who’s mouth.  He is popping and crunching the watermelon like pop corn and Peta is trying to keep up.  Each watermelon needs to be broken in half on a rock first and as a result Peta is also covered in watermelon juice.

The whole process of lifting, measuring, fitting and distracting takes about one hour.  We are gratified that our presence contributes in a positive (and delicious) way.

As we move forward from this momentous day in this elephants life, we are thrilled that there is a team of highly capable and super motivated elephant lovers on the ground who will work both now and in the future to better his life.

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Seven men are needed to do the joint task of lift and fit, simultaneously.

We all recognize that our elephant friend will require multiple legs in the coming years and we agree to work together toward the common goal of providing a durable solution.

The solution?

To open a bank account in the elephant’s name! Information upcoming for those interested in supporting this effort.

Big thanks and shout out to all of you who made donations during the 2015 online and in person fund raiser ~ the donations will be the very first contribution into the bank account.

We look forward to a long term fund raising activity to ensure that this elephant and other young elephants in need of  special care in Sri Lanka are able to receive it.







38 thoughts on “I made a promise to an elephant in Sri Lanka!

  1. Obaid Khan

    What a phenomenal touching story. I’m so glad that in this world there are some nice people like you that actually take the time to go over there and do this, simply phenomenal thank you!

    1. Suzanne Schecker

      I am so grateful for you and all the wonderful people who have made a commitment to help our precious elephants..thank you for your loving heart and for sharing this beautiful story..I have some adopted elephants at the sanctuary in Tennessee and they also love fruit, especially bananas…

      1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

        Thanks Suzanne. We would love to hear more about the Sanctuary in Tennessee. I do believe I read about it whilst doing our elephant research. Please do tell us more! How old are the elephants you adopted?

        The elephant in our blog definitely had a preference for watermelon over the bananas. I sure was a popular girl that day!!

    2. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thank you Obaid ~ fellow animal lover. We still have a long way to go but are hopeful that our friends in Sri Lanka are on the right path and that together we can help this elephant and other elephants!

  2. Adrienne

    I just loved reading the narrative and was enthralled by the pictures accompanying. I wish the world was filled to the brim with such delightful philanthropists like yourselves. Yes- every soul can make a contribution on some small way- and together we CAN change the world.
    Thank you for being you.. And for including us in your magnificent journey xo

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Adrienne for being so supportive. Glad to have you share our journey via the blog!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Coincidence? Serendipity? Or manifestation?


      The stars and the planets were aligned.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Aw thanks Rasa!

      Makes me happy knowing you two are reading us…(occasionally.)

      What a drippy sticky job feeding an elephant watermelon is. So much fun!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thank you! It really was amazing timing. What are the odds that at the VERY time we were in Sri Lanka trying to help this elephant, another group would be doing the same thing at the same time?!?

  3. Sharon Rosenzweig

    Amazing story, well told. Good work, awesome connection, perfect timing, and a juicy girl. Sell the film rights and fund the project.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thank you!!

      I like your thinking.

      All you movie producers out there, this script is for you!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Gilda. We still have a long way to go, but as you note, we are certainly committed to helping and aware of the fact that this will need to be a long term commitment. It does feel great to know we have tried and hopefully will make a difference in this elephants life.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      He is very very cute but frustrated too. His handicap is definitely getting more challenging as he gets older.

  4. badfish

    How marvelous!! I can almost feel what you must have been feeling while doing all this. It’s just a wonderful idea, and cool thing to do. Why aren’t things like this on the 6 o’clock news, instead of all that stuff that is? Good on you!!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Badfish ~ our five years in Nicaragua launching bamboo plantations and teaching Mayagna Indians to build robust bamboo houses for hurricane victims ~ did not make the news either. Go figure! Mayhem is what attracts the most attention.

  5. Sue Slaght

    Well that is perhaps one of the most amazing and generous stories I have read in a long time! I have goosebumps as I write. What generous hearts you have and good for you to take action in such a complex situation. Wow! Amazing. Truly.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thank you Sue !

      It feels better for me to ” take action” rather than feel pity and walk away. Not something one can do all the time… but having impact once and impacting one life is extremely meaningful and well worth the effort and energy.

      This “little guy” has been tugging at my heart from the moment we met him. We still have a long complex road ahead but it does feel like the hardest part of this effort is hopefully behind us.

      Our in country partners are working to open a bank account for the elephant and when that’s done, we will start a new round of fund raising to cover costs of successive prosthetic legs which will be needed as he grows and adds weight!

  6. Jeff Bell

    Wow, what a beautiful story. I agree with Sue in the above comment about feeling goosebumps. Elephants are such incredible animals with such complex social interactions. Hopefully he can keep up with his elephant friends now.

    Those must have been some delicious watermelons to serve as distraction! Thanks for sharing this incredible story and for helping this guy.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Jeff!

      Yes, elephants are highly intelligent and do have complex social interactions. They have close family ties and very individual personalities.

      In the case of this handicapped elephant,it is unlikely he will be able to keep up with his peers but at least he will hopefully be not as isolated and ostracized once he has a functioning prosthetic leg.

      I must say that I was a bit nervous as to whether the watermelon treats could distract an elephant from the reality of being poked and prodded at ~ but it did the trick! Whew!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Liesbet ~ this really made us smile! As empty nesters we do look at our actions through the prism of role modeling to our four sons and hopefully inspire them…. And others.

      As yogis and the fact that we are passionate about Asia, not surprisingly we recognize Karma as a valid currency!

      Re keeping promises, I (Peta) am very careful with making promises and do this rarely as I feel so strongly about keeping promises if and when they are made.

      Thank you for your meaningful feedback and support!

  7. Anita and Richard @ No Particular Place To Go

    Such an inspiring story and the coincidence of finding out the prosthetic that you were hoping for was intended for the elephant you’d hoped to help as well as the timing of your visit was just “meant to be!” Loved the video too and wishing you well on your journey. Can’t wait to read more of your posts! Anita

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Anita and Richard.
      Yes, synchronicity all around! I love when things “flow” so well.
      So glad you enjoyed the video. Look forward to having you both as followers of Green Global Trek!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Caroline so glad you enjoyed this post! Having grown up in South Africa I went to Kruger National park as a child very often. This sparked my love of wildlife. When I heard that Sri Lanka (such a small island) still has a sizable population of wild elephants this was the catalyst for our first visit in 2014.

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