Sama firm on three legs
from Daily Mirror of February 09, 2002)
Lanka's celebrated three-legged elephant Sama has
rejected an artificial limb fitted by a team of German doctors. Now
authorities want well-meaning vets to keep away and leave the 11-year-old
female jumbo in peace.
A team led by doctor Annet Kallian attached the limb to Sama's damaged
front right leg last week, but she kicked it off almost immediately.
Filmed by a foreign television crew, the procedure had been an endurance
test for Sama, who appeared restless and unusually agitated.
tried an ayurvedic preparation to partly sedate Sama, but it failed,"
the Director of the Department of National Zoological Gardens, H.A. Perera,
The Germans wanted a second go at fixing the limb. Perera said he was
unhappy with this, but had relented after the elephant was hosed to cool
her down. Sama was given a tranquillizer injection and the leg was
attached under sedation." As she came out of sedation, she banged the
leg until the limb came off. She appeared determined not to rest on the
artificial limb. She must have banged it at least 50 times and pulled it
with her trunk. The limb eventually fell off," Perera said.
Left: A volunteer tries to fix an artificial limb on Sama.
Top Right: Sama, looks angrily after it kicked off the artificial limb
(left) where a team of German trainers tried to attach it at the elephant
orphanage in Pinnawela. Sama was sedated twice to attach the limb but both
Bottom Right: German doctor, Annet Kallian (R) lifts the chained
left leg of Lanka's Sama, as foreign trainer Frederik (2nd,L) and
veterenarian, Jayanthi Alahakoon (3rd,L) supervise the fitting of an
The disappointed German team left, taking the limb with them, and Perera
is now unsure if it had been wise to allow the experiment. "I was
very sad. The Germans were disappointed, but we don't want to bother the
elephant any more," Perera said.
Sama, who has one leg considerably shorter than the others, has lived at
an elephant orphanage, the world's first, in the central town of Pinnawela
since she was abandoned by her herd in the east of the country in 1991.
Authorities had resisted several earlier attempts to give her an
artificial limb arguing that it would need to be upgraded as she grew. But
Perera said they eventually agreed in August last year to a proposal by
the Germans to train Sama to accept an artificial limb. "There is a
feeling that as Sama grows, she will not be able to support her weight on
three legs and that is why we agreed to the German proposal," Perera
foreign trainer spent about three months with Sama, which means
"peace" in Sinhalese, before trying to fit the limb. The team
raised money for the project through a campaign called "Lucky
Authorities in 1997 turned down a similar offer by a group of South
Africans because there was no guarantee that the procedure was harmless
and follow-up care would not be a problem.
It is unclear how Sama was disabled. Some insist she was wounded after
stepping on a landmine in the island's east where Tamil Tiger rebels are
battling government forces and where many civilians have fallen victim to
But a former wildlife director, Nandana Atapattu, has discounted these
"When we found the baby elephant, it did not have a fresh wound. This
suggests that it was born with a deformity and was left behind by the herd
because it was slow to move," said Atapattu, a veterinary surgeon.
Whether Sama was wounded in a mine blast or not, the country's drawn out
Tamil separatist war is taking a heavy toll on elephants despite their
being revered as sacred animals in Sri Lanka.
But wildlife activists say the decline in Sri Lanka's elephant population,
now down to around 3,000, is also the result of poaching and attacks by
angry farmers who lose their crops to marauding wild animals.
Thailand too has elephants deformed in landmines. The most famous, Motola,
who gained worldwide attention after stepping on a landmine on the border
with Myanmar two years ago, had most of her left front foot amputated
after the accident.
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Date: September 25, 2003