Elephant Able to Walk, Swim, and Play Thanks to Innovative Prosthetic

May 11, 2023

At the end of a now-viral TikTok, wildlife photographer Cameron Whitnall asks viewers to “Blow this up for Chhouk.”

Whitnall posted the video of a young elephant frolicking through its paddock at the Wildlife Alliance in Cambodia. And the internet listened. The footage was watched, liked, and shared over 3.7 million times.

The fact that Chhouk is able to move at all is a wonder. The 9-foot-tall, 15-year-old Asian elephant lost his left foot to a poacher’s trap when he was less than a year old. After that he got an infection that nearly killed him. The Wildlife Alliance saved Chhouk’s life. However, he still couldn't move around easily.  

That’s where the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics came in.

"It's not very common for animals to get prosthetic limbs," Whitnall told Newsweek. But they measured Chhouk and guided him through the fitting process. They had to use a lot of coconut treats to sweeten the deal. Chhouk’s team was then able to attach the 44-pound prosthetic. It is “made from recycled tires, plastics and foam for comfort," Whitnall explained. 

The leg is replaced every six months as Chhouk grows. And now, the elephant is “able to walk, run, and swim freely without any pain,” the TikTok reveals.  

Asian elephants can live to be 60 years old and do not stop growing until around age 25. They have no natural predators. However, they are classified as endangered. This is mainly due to habitat loss and targeting by poachers.    

Photo from Unsplash via Iswanto Arit.  

Reflect: Think of an example when human intervention with wildlife is helpful to the animal and the ecosystem. Are there examples when human intervention is not helpful? Explain.

Based on the details in the story, what is the significance of the prosthetic limb given to Chhouk? (Common Core RI.5.2; RI.6.2)
a. It allowed him to walk, run, and swim without pain.
b. It was the first time an animal of this size has been given a prosthetic limb.
c. It prevented him from getting sick.
d. It made him less likely to be targeted by poachers.
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