Mosha the elephant goes mobile with a prosthetic leg

If it’s true what they say about elephants and memory, Mosha will never forget her surgeon, Dr. Therdchai Jivacate. When Mosha was just two years old, a landmine explosion crippled the young Asian elephant and caused her to lose her right front foreleg, just below the knee. Jivacate came across Mosha’s story though the Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation and decided to help.

“Animals don’t ask that we make legs for them, but we wanted to give Mosha one,” Jivacate said in an interview with Motherboard. “I think she knows that I make her prosthetic legs as each time I come to the elephant hospital she makes a little salute by raising her trunk in the air.”

Jivacate was no stranger to developing prosthetics – he’d built over 20,000 artificial limbs by the time he met Mosha. Still, most of his previous patients were a fraction of the elephant’s size, and this posed a number of challenges.

“We knew that she wouldn’t use the prosthetic leg if it caused her pain,” Jivacate said. “At first, she was curious about what was attached to her stump and tried to remove the prosthetic with her trunk, but we’d secured it tightly.”

Twelve hours of practice and a few readjustments later, Mosha was mobile again. But mobility was just one benefit of the prosthetic limb — it also enabled her to support her huge frame more comfortably.

“When I saw Mosha, I noticed that she had to keep raising her trunk into the air in order to walk properly,” Jivacate told Motherboard. “At the time, she weighed around [1,300 pounds] and she was putting two thirds of her body weight onto her left foreleg, which was causing it to become bent.”

Mosha has outgrown nine limbs in six years and now weighs nearly 4,500 pounds. Jivacate, meanwhile, has stayed busy searching for new combinations of materials like thermoplastic, steel, and elastomer to develop the ideal artificial limb for his outsized patient.