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.
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.
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!”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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