February 2016

Pet of the Month: 
Valli the Indian Elephant

“Dear Lowri, do you treat large animals?” was the relatively innocuous email that I received from Cath at Carmarthen Veterinary Centre one autumn morning. What the email failed to say was that the large animal in question was in fact very large in deed, an Indian Elephant by the name of Valli. Carmarthenshire is not well known for its indigenous elephant population, however Valli has resided there amongst the residents of Scanda Vale for over thirty five years.

So where do you start with a lame Elephant? Like any patient, its a necessity to see them move so I went for a walk in the woods with Valli and her handlers Brother Peter and Brother Stephan. Normally I like to watch movement from all angles, including from above but needless to say this was not possible with Valli, in fact it was almost impossible to see both left and right forelimbs at the same time. I also quickly learnt that Elephants don’t like to have you follow them so monitoring her movements from behind was also out of the question. I ended up running backwards down a hill to try and watch her left front leg going through its motions.

The next problem I encountered was that at 90Kg per leg, manipulation was going to be difficult. I did manage to lift a front leg - Valli was very co-operative, however within a couple of seconds my knees were on the floor. Luckily with the help of Brother Stephan I managed to at least work out that she did not appear to be uncomfortable in the lower part of the leg. A step ladder does not regularly form part of a veterinary surgeon’s tool box, so whilst I was pondering how to get to the shoulder, Valli in a most obliging manner lay down. Elephant palpation proved surprisingly rewarding and an area of pain and muscle spasm was relatively easy to find in Valli’s shoulder and yes Elephants do flinch when you touch the sore spot.

 

The next challenge was to find a suitable acupuncture needle to treat an Elephant with. Needless to say, the demand for Elephant size’d acupuncture needles is not great and I had to make do with ones generally suitable for a large horse. Luckily, Valli tolerated her needling well and was happy to lie down quietly throughout the treatment. Often, when carrying out acupuncture on sore or painful areas, the body can have a very powerful reaction to the needles, as happened with Valli the first time I treated her. Strong muscle contractions can alter the geometry of the needles and they came out bent into all sorts of different shapes. I generally take this as an indication of having found the source of pain and tissue damage. Over subsequent weeks as Valli became less sore to the touch, the needles came out much straighter.

Brother Peter and Brother Stefan were also actively involved with Valli’s treatment. Alongside the acupuncture, massage, stretches and Infra Red heat therapy were also used in her rehabilitation programme.  Having never worked with an Elephant before, coming up with a suitable treatment protocol was a challenge and it soon became clear that elephants are very delicate and susceptible to over stretching.

Luckily the approach appears to have worked. Valli has been weaned off her pain killers and generally shows very little lameness though her footsteps are meticulously recorded by the brothers. After seeing her on a weekly basis initially, she is now being monitored on a monthly basis. I feel very honored to have played a role in Valli’s recovery after all how many vets can say that they regularly take tea with an Elephant (or Coco in Valli’s case).