We are getting excited around here about the premiere of Animal Planet’s new series “Dodo Heroes” (airing 9 p.m. June 9), which will feature Animal Ortho Care as they fit Jabu the elephant with the world’s first elephant orthotic leg brace.
Designing and building a device for Jabu- a 5.5-ton, 3.5-meter tall African Elephant (and one of Animal Ortho Care’s biggest patients to date)- took them three months and sent him on two trans-Atlantic trips to Botswana, where Jabu lives on a sanctuary with his adopted sister, Morula, and human caretakers, Doug and Sandi Groves.
Jabu was injured during a run in with a wild bull elephant in 2016. Today he’s battling a nagging wrist injury and osteoarthritis- potentially life-threatening problems for an animal his size.
The Groves are pursuing multiple treatment options for Jabu, including medication and stem cell therapy. Sandi contacted Animal Ortho Care via email hoping they could make a brace that would support the limb and protect Jabu from further injury and from the elements of the bush in Botswana.
Here, AOC answers questions about Jabu and his treatment:
Can you tell us about Jabu’s injury? Which leg? How has Jabu’s injury impacted him?
Jabu's front right leg was injured after he was attacked by a bull elephant and fell into a hole from a termite mound. There is an angular deformity called carpal valgus that could get worse over time if left untreated, especially in an elephant weighing almost 6 tons. So, this essentially is a life-threatening injury as he could get attacked by another bull elephant, etc.
What was your initial reaction/thoughts about your ability to help Jabu?
As we have worked with a couple elephants in the past, I knew this would be a huge undertaking, but we knew we could help Jabu and really wanted to put my skills to the test.
When did you first meet Jabu? What’s he like?
We initially saw him standing tall on a termite mound looking very impressive-- almost showing off. Jabu is a gentle soul and was very sensitive to our presence. We felt very safe.
You’ve helped other elephants before- how does this experience compare to others you’ve worked with?
We have helped build prosthetics for elephants in Thailand and that was very difficult, but sometimes a lack of a limb is easier to work with than having a limb present that you have to make a brace for. This was the case with Jabu and both instances were immensely difficult.
Can you describe the process of designing and building a brace for Jabu?
Unlike most devices that we can build from scratch in house, we had to send most parts out to be fabricated as one-off prototypes because our Limb Factory couldn't accommodate the build. This was hard. We had to make sure everything was made perfectly in a very quick manner because we did not have much time to work with. We were able to assemble the pieces and adjust the brace on site in Botswana.
What have been the biggest challenges in designing and building a brace?
Really, the lack of tools and not having our lab on site to help with the adjustments and modifications. We had to use what was available to conquer this issue.
How has Jabu reacted to the brace you built for him? What was it like the first time he wore it?
He is just like any animal. First, they are not sure about it and then learn to trust it over time as has Jabu with this brace.
What has it been like visiting Botswana? How often have you needed to go to see Jabu?
It’s the best place we have ever been. We believe we will go there about once a year to check on Jabu.
What’s the prognosis for Jabu as far his leg? What’s the long-term goal for him?
We believe he is doing well with the device. He has been experiencing some other issues and the Groves are looking into additional therapies that prevent further osteoarthritis. Hoping for a long happy healthy life. We’d like to see safe, functional ambulation and protection from the elements and other wildlife seen in the bush on the Okavango Delta.
To learn more about Jabu, make sure to tune in to “Dodo Heroes” 9 p.m. June 9 on Animal Planet.
ABOUT LIVING WITH ELEPHANTS FOUNDATION
Living With Elephants is a Botswana based nonprofit organization dedicated to caring for rescued African Elephants in the sanctuary of the Okavango Delta, Botswana. LWE was launched in 1999 by Doug and Sandi Groves. Presently, the focus is on medical care and treatments for Jabu, a 31-year-old African bull elephant, due to a recent injury. The Foundation has charitable status in the USA and can accept tax deductible donations. Your support is greatly appreciated!
Learn more about Living With Elephants here.