Gajraj had lived nearly 70 years in captivity as a temple elephant. A routine day in his life involved walking uphill on tarred roads to the temple compound where he would then spend the rest of his day chained in the same spot. Years of walking on hot, unnatural surfaces led to the gradual degradation of Gajraj’s footpads, wearing them so thin that in some places his sole has become a painful pink color. This is extremely dangerous for an elephant; such a tender and poorly protected footpad is prone to getting pierced by even a small pebble or thorn, which could result in a dangerous infection, inflammation, or an abscess that would be extremely difficult to treat due to its location underfoot.
Concerned about Gajraj’s footpads, particularly the pink portion of his left hind foot, the veterinarians at the Elephant Conservation and Care Center consulted with experts who helped them come up with an innovative solution to the problem — in the form of a dark, sticky liquid. Sole-Guard is a form of liquid urethane that sets quickly when exposed to the air, coating whatever surface it is on with a durable, shock-absorbent, and flexible layer that protects it from moisture, debris, and possible infection. Although created for the protection of the feet of horses without shoes, our veterinarians were hopeful that it could help elephants too! Watch the video below to see the process.
The process is interesting. Armed with a dispenser of the liquid, the veterinarian waits patiently until Gajraj places his foot on a bar and exposes his footpad. He has been receptive to positive conditioning and training during medical procedures, and as such is a very willing participant in his treatment (so long as he receives a steady stream of treats, anyway). The vets then brush off any mud or dirt on the bottom of his foot, ensure it is clean and dry before squeezing a little less than half the tube of Sole-Guard onto the pinkish, compromised portion of his footpad. A plastic sheet is placed over the gel to spread it out and hold it in place, and in less than a minute the liquid has solidified into a dark coating under Gajraj’s foot. He can then comfortably place the foot down and walk about with no trouble at all — Gajraj didn’t seem to even notice it was there; it didn’t even warant a quick inspection with his trunk!
Although in equines, the Sole-Guard sheath remains intact for around 3 weeks, the weight and usage of an elephant is obviously very different, and after about a week of walking around, the natural exfoliation of the foot causes the layer to loosen from an elephant’s sole, and requires replacement.
So far, Sole-Guard has proven quite beneficial in protecting the delicate portion of Gajraj’s feet, and we plan to continue using it to allow the footpad to heal underneath without the risk of punctures or infections.
Currently, Sole-Guard is not sold in India, and needs to be specially ordered and shipped for Gajraj’s treatment. The frequent use of this product and shipping can be quite costly, but it is definitely a worthy investment to keep Gajraj comfortable, healthy, and safe. If you would like to contribute to Gajraj’s care, please consider becoming a monthly contributor at this link.