Chhuok – The Elephant Rescue Story
In March 2007, Wildlife Alliance Director of Care for Rescued Wildlife, Nick Marx and FA head vet, Dr Nhim Thy travelled to Mondulkiri to begin an incredible Elephant Rescue story. Their task was to inspect an injured elephant calf that had been wandering alone in the forest with a severe wound to his limb from a snare.
The calf found a bull Elephant that was cared for by WWF.
All Blockquoted text in this article is from the original report by Nick Marx, present at the time.
Happy to find the company of its own kind, the calf followed the big bull back to Trapeang Chhouk, a WWF patrol station in the area.
He was in a very bad way and it seemed almost certain that the young elephant would die, he was so badly injured and undernourished.
It seemed only his fighting spirit was keeping him upright.
The WWF team had captured the elephant and named him Chhouk, which means Lotus in Khmer (Cambodian). They had to tether him to a tree to stop him wandering off until help arrived.
The WWF team were doing their best to feed him any food he would eat, but out in the forest, they didn’t have the facilities, the medicine or the expertise to cope with such a serious problem.
Chhouk was sedated whilst the treatment took place, firstly bandaging his injured leg. Nick slept in a hammock beside the little elephant, hand feeding him everything he ate.
He was very aggressive for such a small elephant but soon settled down once he realised he was being assisted.
After bandaging the injured leg again, they lifted him into what was described as:
A cage of branches and banana trees built in the back of a transport truck.
The track was rocky and undulating and if Chhouk fell he could injure himself further. They set off on March 8th, 2007. The truck driver was fantastic. Chhouk lay sleeping while the effects of the sedation wore off, this kept him calm for most of the journey out of the forest.
Although the journey was only 16KM it took around 3 hours due to the bad roads.
Nick traveled in the back with the elephant, feeding him throughout the journey. On March 10th, they arrived at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center and lifted the small elephant into one of their stalls in the elephant house.
The Healing Process
Chhouk had arrived at the reserve, just outside of Phnom Pen, in one piece but they now had to attend to his wounds. He had lost the bottom part of his leg to a poaching snare. The constriction had cut off the blood and killed the flesh below it. They had to sedate him each week, clean his wounds and small fragments of bone. All damaged tissue was removed from the leg and then re‐bandaged.
The healing powers of wild animals can be amazing, yet they do often need extra help. Equally amazing are the team at Wildlife Alliance, who do outstanding work and save many lives through their devotion to wildlife and conservation. Each and every week, they undressed the leg with Nhim Thy. They said they could almost see the skin re‐growing down the leg and around the underside of the remaining stump.
With time, the skin was completely healed and had covered what was left of the entire leg. The job, however, is only partially finished.
He used to walk in the forest with another elephant at the reserve called Lucky. Torch Tours were lucky enough (pardon the pun) to meet at the reserve along with Chhuok on the WA behind the scenes tour. You can book via them and 100% of the proceeds go towards the upkeep of the animals at the reserve and we believe it is, without doubt, the best use of the fees any organisation could ensure. There is more feedback on Trip Advisor.
Lucky had adopted the role of big sister, but Chhouk was very sore and got tired quickly, needing frequent rests.
The Prosthetic Miracle
The Wildlife Alliance contacted several prosthetics organisations in Cambodia, which are plentiful. Most of them sent their best wishes, but none offered to help.
Thankfully, the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics (CSPO) answered the little calf’s prayers. (WA has been working with CSPO for over ten years now.) They said they would make their best attempt.
Early in 2009 Chhouk’s leg was x-rayed and the CSPO took the first cast of the leg. During this process, Chhuok was fed bananas to distract him from the work.
The first prosthesis arrived a few weeks later and Chhouk took to it immediately, happily walking into the forest like he had worn it all his life! He no longer got tired and was clearly enjoying life more. The team continues to make Chhouk’s prosthetic shoes and they have now replaced it 14 times!
The CSPO also conducts the repairs that are needed more frequently now as Chhouk grows. Without the kindness and determination of the Wildlife Alliance (WA) and the CSPO then he would have been surely destined to die.
Unfortunately, his amputated lower leg will always need recurring care throughout his entire life. It is necessary for his continued health and being as pain-free as possible only by receiving continuous alterations to his prosthetic leg. In addition to new prosthetics as his body also changes. This is crucial and any financial help towards this incredible animal’s unending treatment will be most graciously accepted, especially by Chhouk.
Chhouk is a big lad now and we can only handle him using the protected contact system, from behind the safety of steel. However, we must still care for his disability and under the directions of head keeper, Try Sitheng, Chhouk has been trained using reward-based, positive reinforcement training, using food to get him to allow us to change his shoe, check his leg twice daily, administer medical treatment, create new shoes and anything else we may need to do.