They built an ankle joint out of a car engine.
May 14, 2012 1:26 PM   Subscribe

10 years ago it was considered impossible to build a prosthetic for an elephant.
What do you do when an endangered elephant steps on a land mine? If you’re the Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital, you make a prosthetic leg that can support 2000 pounds of moving pachyderm.

In his Nobel Peace Prize lecture accepting on behalf of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines, Rae McGrath said, “we cannot talk of having concern for the global environment and yet leave future generations a blighted world with land made unusable by this deadly military garbage.”

Thousands of people have been killed and maimed in Myanmar(Burma) and Thailand by anti-personnel mines and other explosive remnants of war.

These weapons also represent a danger to the Asian elephants which cross the Myanmar/Thailand border. The documentary The Eyes of Thailand (warning: the trailer includes some graphic images of landmine injury to elephants) chronicles the efforts of Friends of the Asian elephant to fit prosthetic legs for elephants Mosha and Motala. Windy Borman, the film’s director and producer, says, “separately from, ‘We need to protect Asian elephants,’ and ‘We want to encourage other countries to sign the mine ban treaty,’ the film really forces you to look at what people are telling you is impossible. Because 10 years ago it was considered impossible to build a prosthetic for an elephant.” The Eyes of Thailand premiered at the International Wildlife Film Festival , but is still looking for a distributer.
posted by endless_forms (25 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is awesome and goddamn it but baby elephants are ridiculously adorable. I wonder if they had to put them in giant cones of shame during the healing process, though.
posted by elizardbits at 1:34 PM on May 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


/ \~~~/ \ ,----------( .. ) / \ _ _/ /| _(\ |( ^ \ / \|||/ \ | |__| |||| -
posted by leotrotsky at 1:39 PM on May 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


Gentlemen. We can rebuild this elephant. We have the technology. Better than it was before. Floppier, cuter, trunkier.
posted by mightygodking at 1:43 PM on May 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


I see captive elephants on par with captive dolphins and whales. It just ain't right. But I'm glad these people are making prosthetics for injured elephants! How wonderful that is.
posted by Malice at 1:46 PM on May 14, 2012


What do you do when an endangered elephant steps on a land mine?

Up-armor the elephant and teach it to flatten anything that stands in its way.

As part of Mr. Lee's good neighbor policy, all Rat Things are programmed never to break the sound barrier in a populated area. But Fido's in too much of a hurry to worry about the good neighbor policy.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:53 PM on May 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


It's sort of a toss-up, I guess? I mean, I'd rather see a prosthetically-enabled elephant safe in captivity than out in the wild where it would likely be easy pickings for ivory poachers. Although in this case both elephants in the first article were female Asian elephants, so no tusks. (right? idek.)
posted by elizardbits at 1:55 PM on May 14, 2012


Man, with that Samsung Phone ad and now this...I've really developing the irrational need for a pet elephant. This will not end well.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:55 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The reference to the 'car engine' are driving me nuts. Has anyone found a link or picture that shows exactly what part of a car engine they used? Its not at all obvious from the text I have seen and the picture doesn't at all look like it has engine bits in it.

Not like me to obsess on the engineering side, I know, but WHAT ENGINE BITS AND HOW.
posted by Brockles at 2:03 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Um, could have used some trigger warnings! My elephant stepped on a landmine while I was training it for battle.
posted by resurrexit at 2:04 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Man... technical readings about landmines, even if only of the Wikipedia variety, are always good for bringing down your mood and lowering your faith in the human race.
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:07 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also helpful in areas with novelty umbrella stand fads.
posted by Phalene at 2:24 PM on May 14, 2012


Some pics of the ankle joint. It looks like it some kind of hinge? This is apparently from an earlier version of the prosthetic for the larger elephant. Many more pics here showing the various design revisions of the prosthesis, including at least one version that looks like it incorporated a wheelbarrow tire as a foot pad.

Warning: last dozen pics at the bottom of this very long page show the elephant's traumatic injury.
posted by jamaro at 2:26 PM on May 14, 2012


Wild African elephant herds have become adapt at smelling landmines and avoiding them, though not always and it took some painful lessons.
posted by stbalbach at 3:03 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is an awesome story! Well, it starts out horribly, but ends well.

I'm guessing they used parts from a piston from the engine to make the "ankle' joint.
posted by postel's law at 3:27 PM on May 14, 2012


I'm guessing they used parts from a piston from the engine to make the "ankle' joint.

That was what I assumed, but 2000lbs is way more than a standard car engine would be good for, and they only have freedom in one plane, which I'd have thought would have been problematic for the usage. Also, it looks nothing like a piston/con rod joint that I have seen in an automotive application.
posted by Brockles at 3:39 PM on May 14, 2012


stbalbach, I'd love to see any cites you have for that bit of information.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:55 PM on May 14, 2012


?That was what I assumed, but 2000lbs is way more than a standard car engine would be good for, and they only have freedom in one plane, which I'd have thought would have been problematic for the usage.

More likely a drive shaft from a front wheel drive transaxle, which has to handle the power of the car, multiplied by the gearing of the transmission, and has universal joints at at least one end, since the front wheel move on the suspension.
posted by eriko at 4:53 PM on May 14, 2012


flapjax at midnite: "stbalbach, I'd love to see any cites you have for that bit of information."

"During Angola’s prolonged civil war, an estimated 100,000 elephants were slaughtered, their ivory sold to buy arms. In 2001, a year before the war ended, fewer than 40 were left in the country’s Luiana reserve. Six years later, after Namibia and Botswana agreed to open a strategic 22-mile gap in a maze of border and veterinary fencing (keeping wild buffalo or infected cattle from contaminating Botswana’s herds), Chase counted 8,000. Bull elephants had scouted Angola’s thinly-populated southern reserves, found conditions to their liking, and returned to northern Botswana to lead herds home to Angola. Once there, they skirted landmines, having perhaps learned through bitter experience how to sniff them out. Their message was clear: Give us a way back, and we will come."[1]
posted by stbalbach at 5:11 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The speculation that African elephants learned to avoid land mines seems to trace back to this National Geographic article about observations of various researchers studying the African elephant migrations.
posted by endless_forms at 5:15 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fixing elephants we broke may not be the most economically efficient use of our resources, but it does give me just the faintest glimmer of hope that maybe we aren't the crappiest species ever to infest this planet.
posted by senor biggles at 5:37 PM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


More likely a drive shaft from a front wheel drive transaxle

All that loading is rotational, though. It's ability to take compressive loads is awful. This is driving me crazy and totally tangential to the main point of the post, but it really bugs me when people add seemingly significant elements ("Oh, they used a car engine") yet don't actually tell you how.
posted by Brockles at 7:59 PM on May 14, 2012


AWWW BABY ELEPHANT AWWWWW.

Plus, science! I haven't seen anything like this since the Dolphin's Tail movie.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:24 PM on May 14, 2012


For the people trying to suss out the mechanics of it, I should say that the "2000 lbs" is just the portion of the elephant's weight on the leg if it's standing with its weight on all fours -- they're ~6000 lbs and have 2/3 their weight on their front legs. The amount of force involved when they're walking is probably more.
posted by endless_forms at 7:57 AM on May 15, 2012


The amount of force involved when they're walking is probably more.

Especially shock loading, I agree. The forces involved and the relative (apparently) simplicity of the leg is what has me intrigued.
posted by Brockles at 9:01 AM on May 15, 2012


That ankle needs to support a lot of weight, and have some "give" when the elephant steps. I wonder if "we used a car engine" really means "we used a car suspension."
posted by rossmik at 12:37 PM on May 15, 2012


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