Chhouk is a 5 year old bull elephant orphan who probably wouldn’t be alive today if not for the care he received from Nick Marx, the Director of Wildlife Rescue and Care at the Wildlife Alliance.
Chhouk was found in the Cambodian jungle back in 2007 – scared, alone and very close to death with his left front foot mangled by a poacher’s trap. Elephants are known for being some of the most emotional animals alive. Having been just a baby elephant orphan when he was found, I can only imagine how fearful young Chhouk must have been.
“I really thought he would never make it,” said Nick Marx, today stroking Chhouk’s trunk with a sense of pride and affection. “He was seriously injured. He was extremely young, emaciated and very, very sick.”
Marx was one of the first angels to come in to Chhouk’s life – nursing him in the jungle for a week until he was stable enough to move. “I stayed with him, slept beside him, hand-fed him everything he ate.”;
Eventually Chhouk was taken to the Cambodian government’s Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, outside Phnom Penh, and nursed back to complete health. But as Marx says, “The damage was severe. He’s lost six to eight inches of his leg.”
Enter in the angels from the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics. While they had never tried anything of this magnitude before, Marx knew if Chhouk was going to have any quality of life, he needed to be able to walk. And as you can see from the image above, he is doing just that.
“It’s a kind of plastic resin. The inside is quite soft, and the outside is very hard,” said Marx. It has to be cleaned daily but the young elephant doesn’t seem to mind. He knows when it’s time and willingly lifts his massive leg for the keepers to properly attend to it. Amazing how some animals can sense when humans are truly there to care for them.
As if this story doesn’t already make you want to cry your eyes out, thankfully Chhouk seems to have been adopted by an older elephant at the center named Lucky. His prosthetic never slowing him down.
“It’s changed his life,” says Marx. “From being a tired little chap who slept a lot when he went on his walks, he’s now lively and energetic. He never stops.”;
It’s said there are some 300 to 500 elephants left in the wild in Cambodia, but constant threats from poachers and a loss of habitat is making that number decrease. To make matters worse, young elephant orphans like Chhouk are often sought after by entertainment venues who keep them living in deplorable conditions.
Chhouk is no longer an elephant orphan and will never again be able to live in the wild. But I have a feeling he doesn’t mind all that much. Especially after being rescued and given the opportunity to live a full and fairly normal life at the rescue center – a life that wouldn’t have been possible without the help of a few angels along the way.