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Motola the 48-year-old elephant walks with her artificial leg

August 17, 2009 |  3:24 pm

Motola LAMPANG, Thailand — Motola, an elephant who lost a foot and part of her leg when she stepped on a land mine 10 years ago, happily if tentatively stepped out Sunday after being fitted with an artificial limb.

In her first stroll with the permanent prosthesis, the 48-year-old female walked out of her enclosure for about 10 minutes, grabbed some dust with her trunk and jubilantly sprayed it in the air.

"It has gone very well — she has walked around twice," said Soraida Salwala, secretary general of the Friends of the Asian Elephant, a private group. "She has not put her whole weight on it yet but she's OK."

Motola was injured in 1999 while working at a logging camp near the Myanmar border, a region peppered with land mines after a half-century of insurgency. Her mangled left front foot was subsequently amputated.

Motola had been wearing a temporary device for three years to strengthen her leg muscles and tendons and to prepare her for the permanent prosthesis. Soraida said Motola has otherwise been in fine health and that her once bony frame now weighs more than 3 tons.

Motola's initial operation used enough anesthetic to floor 70 people — a record noted in the 2000 Guinness Book of World Records.

The artificial leg was made by the Prostheses Foundation, which also makes artificial limbs for human amputees.

Soraida's group established the Elephant Hospital in northern Thailand, where Motola was being treated, in 1993. The world's first such facility, the hospital has treated thousands of elephants for ailments ranging from eye infections to gunshot wounds.

Mine injuries are only one of many problems facing the domesticated giant, whose numbers have dropped from 13,400 in 1950 to today's estimated 2,500. The number of wild elephants has also dropped dramatically.

Traditionally the truck, taxi and logging worker of Thailand, the elephant's role has been eroded due to modernization. One saving grace has been tourism, which employs many elephants for trekking and other activities.

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-- Associated Press

Top and middle: Motola, a 48-year-old female elephant who lost part of her left front leg after stepping on a land mine 10 years ago, uses her trunk to splash dust in the air after walking out of an enclosure with her newly-installed artificial leg at the Elephant Hospital in Lampang province, northern Thailand Sunday, Aug. 16, 2009. Motola became a symbol of the plight of today's elephants, her injury sparked international sympathy and donations.

Bottom: Terdchai Cheevakate, right, an artificial leg expert, holds the model of the leg of Motola, a female elephant who stepped on a land mine 10 years ago, at its enclosure at the Elephant Hospital in Lampang province, northern Thailand Saturday, Aug. 15, 2009.

(AP Photos/Apichart Weerawong)

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