Meet Mosha: The First Elephant With a Prosthetic Leg

June 22, 2016 | Johannes Van Zijl

Elephant wearing prosthetic leg
Photo credit: Screen capture from video by Great Big Story

Yet another reason to love technology!

Technology is not only helping humans become mobile again after losing a limb, it has now being adapted for animals too, and in this case, for Mosha, a baby Asian Elephant that lost her right foreleg in a landmine explosion.

When Thai orthopedic surgeon, Therdchai Jivacate, caught sight of the then two-year-old Mosha at the Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation in 2007, he immediately knew he wanted to help the young elephant walk properly again.

“When I saw Mosha, I noticed that she had to keep raising her trunk into the air in order to walk properly. At the time, she weighed around 600 kg and she was putting two thirds of her body weight onto her left foreleg, which was causing it to become bent,” Jivacate told Motherboard in conversation.

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This motivated Jivacate to set out on one of his biggest challenges yet: to design the first prosthetic limb for an elephant.

The process came with many challenges, as Jivacate had never made a prosthetic leg to the scale required for an elephant. The sheer size of the prosthetic leg posed many biomechanical difficulties: it had to be a comfortable socket for Mosha’s stump to fit in; and it required the correct alignment between the socket and the foot in order for Mosha to be able to walk on the prosthetic leg.

Jivacate and a team of helpers, which included support from vets at the Friends of the Asian Elephant hospital, managed to construct a prosthetic leg for Mosha that met those requirements.  Jivacate admitted in a discussion with Motherboard that the process was trial and error. Luckily for Mosha, the team eventually succeeded.

The prosthetic leg was constructed from thermoplastic, steel, elastomer, and weighs roughly 33 pounds (15 kilograms).

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“We knew that she wouldn’t use the prosthetic leg if it caused her pain,” said Jivacate. “At first, she was curious about what was attached to her stump and tried to remove the prosthetic with her trunk, but we’d secured it tightly,”

It took Mosha around 12 hours to learn how to walk on her new prosthetic leg, but once she managed, there was no looking back.

Over the past six years, Jivacate has made nine prosthetic forelegs for Mosha as she grew in weight and size.  Mosha currently weighs 4,409 pounds (2,000 kilograms) and is happily walking on all four legs again thanks to Jivacate’s efforts.

“Animals don’t ask that we make legs for them, but we wanted to give Mosha one. I think she knows that I make her prosthetic legs as each time I come to the elephant hospital she makes a little salute by raising her trunk in the air.” Jivacate concluded.


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Editor's note (June 23): The original article stated that Mosha was a two-year-old elephant. She is now ten years old but was first fitted with a prosthetic in 2007 at the age of two. We appologise for any confusion this may have caused.

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