Phnom Tmao Wildlife Rescue Centre
Cambodia's only government-run wildlife rescue centre the PTWRC provides care and rehabilitation for a number of endemic species. The Aspinall Foundation have a long working relationship with the centre's technical advisor Mr Nick Marx, who works for US charity, Wildlife Alliance. The funds provided by The Aspinall Foundation assist in supplementing the very low income paid to the centre's animal keeping staff and provides a crucial incentive for them to remain at this job and take good care of the animals in their charge. Other expenses that are covered include food, running costs, transport and veterinary fees.
The Aspinall Foundation also provided half the total amount needed to build an enclosure for Chhouk, a young bull elephant who lost one of his feet to a snare. As Chhouk grows older and less manageable this large enclosure will allow him to have as full a life as possible.
In March 2007 the Cambodian Forestry Administration asked Wildlife Alliance to check on a young elephant with a seriously injured leg who had been found alone in the forest. He had been taken to a forest outpost called Trapeang Chhouk, where he was being fed grass roots and forest grasses but was refusing a more nutritious diet, necessary for a baby elephant's development. He was given the name Chhouk, which means lotus flower.
Chhouk's left front leg was very swollen and badly infected, and had probably been caused by a snare injury, which would have prevented him keeping up with his herd. It was agreed that he would be transferred to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre and provisions were made for Chhouk to make the hazardous journey by truck. Nick travelled in the back with him, but fortunately Chhouk slept for most of the journey out of the forest, which was the most difficult part of the trip.
Snares are very cruel and even if they constrict blood flow for only a short period of time an animal, if it survives, will lose its limb. Chhouk ultimately lost his left foot, but with daily veterinary care at PTWRC it slowly healed. He gradually accepted a more nutritious diet, put on weight and became more content. When he was better he went on twice daily forest walks with 10 year old female elephant, Lucky, who acted as the youngster's big sister and guardian.
A replacement foot is cast
Chhouk's wound had healed, but with his injured leg hampering a full recovery, in 2009 it was decided that the time had come to proceed with the next part of Chhouk's rehabilitation - the provision of a prosthetic foot. Chhouk was off balance due to the lack of a limb and already his right shoulder was bowing out slightly under the extra weight it was carrying. As far as we knew elephants had been fitted with prostheses only twice before and it is not an exact science. Nick contacted Cathy McConnell of the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics, based in Phnom Penh and Dr. Paolo Martelli, head vet at Ocean Park Zoo in Hong Kong, who has had great success treating injured elephant calves. Both were happy to help. They assessed the damaged leg, and took a cast. When the first prosthesis was ready to be fitted we were a little apprehensive as to how Chhouk might react to this strange object attached to his leg. We need not have worried. He proved to be a brave and resilient patient, accepting his new "foot" as if he had worn it all his life! His demeanour immediately changed and he became happier and much more energetic.
This remains the situation today, and Chhouk has developed into a strong young elephant bull. We have given him a small pool for him to swim in, which he loves and also helps keep weight off his leg. Right now he is cared for very much "hands on". At around 5 years old male elephants become dangerous and Chhouk has already made several attacks on his handlers. Due to his injury he will need special care throughout his life and he has been trained using the protected contact system. He now needs the larger enclosure in which he can live happily without being a danger to visitors to the Centre or his keepers. So far Chhouk's rescue has been a great success. We hope that he will continue to live a long and comfortable life at PTWRC.