Foot care of Elephants – a Must


A Sri Lankan elephant weighs between 2,000 – 5000 kg (4,000 – 12,000 lbs). This is a huge weight that the four feet of an elephant has to support. This means that each foot will have to hold 500 – 1,200 kg (1000 – 3,000 lbs) of weight. However, a human weighing about 69 Kg (150 lbs), each leg will have to hold half his weight, 35 kg (75 lbs). Thus a human leg supports a small amount of weight when compared to elephants. Yet humans take good care of their feet. If there is any pain or injury they immediately find solutions. But how do elephants manage their feet in the wild? All elephants take baths in rivers or water tanks every day for an hour or so. This is for two main reasons, firstly to clean up their bodies. Yet once the bathing is over they flash soil on to the body. The other reason is to clean the feet and the pads. That is a very important natural health procedure. On many occasions when stones or thick mud or pieces of wood etc are stuck in-between the toes, they grab a stick by the trunk and clean up the toes! Since wild elephants have river baths in groups it provides social get together and fun as well. Thus it is clear that elephants in the wild take good care of their feet.

Damaged feet of an elephant

How are elephant feet taken care of by the owners or the mahouts? Is there any written method for this procedure? Elephants in zoos in USA have written instructions for this. Every day the elephant legs, nails, cuticles and pads are washed using a spray of water. In the morning too they are given a bath or shower. At least once a day the elephants are allowed to have a swim with other elephants. Common group will facilitate socialization. Elephants must be trained to get used to foot care. First the elephants must be trained to keep the respective foot backwards for further care. You can use rasps or knives. If you do not have experience it is better to use rasps. Use very sharp knives. Normal knives are better than stainless steel knives. If the elephant is not comfortable, place a used car tire under his foot. Before trimming the nails, it is a must to do this procedure after a bath or by immersing the foot in water for at least 10 minutes. The sole also can have cracks. Such cracks must be cleaned everyday and collect and remove mud or sand that is found inside. Elephants with cracked soles should not be allowed to walk a long distance on roads.

Elephant foot with overgrown pad and cracks

A good foot will have no cracks in the soles. The nails must be short, the tip of the nail to be rounded to prevent nails from breaking when subjected to any outside pressure. The front part of the nail should be smooth and not polished. The skin above the nails should be attached to the nails smoothly without any gaps that can collect and contain soil. The front foot has shorter nails. Some nails can have vertical cracks or holes which can collect and hold dirt. This is the reason for the need of regular daily washing and cleaning of elephant feet.

The foot care of elephants must be done from their young days. Each baby elephant can weigh about 90 – 121 kg (90 – 121 lbs), yet their feet must be well looked after.

I am not aware of any written procedures for taking care of elephant feet in Sri Lanka. Are there any suitable and approved knives and rasps for trimming available in Sri Lanka? It is also required to have training programs and demonstrations for elephant owners and mahout workers. There should also be instructions published in a book in Sinhala and Tamil languages for all elephant owners and workers. Daily foot care of elephants is extremely essential because if this is neglected it will slowly lead to paralysis and ultimately death of elephants. Even when elephants are taken for perahera celebrations, cleaning of feet and bathing of elephants should be done daily.


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