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Motola's New Leg: Elephant Fitted with Prosthesis

Motola, a Thai elephant that attracted worldwide attention after being maimed by a land mine six years ago and having a leg amputated, is fitted with a prosthetic limb at an elephant conservation center in Lampang province, northern Thailand, on Sunday August 28, 2005. (Image credit: AP Photo/Wichai Trapew.)

LAMPANG, Thailand (AP) -- A Thai elephant that attracted worldwide attention when its foot was amputated after it stepped on a land mine has been fitted with a temporary prosthesis, a wildlife conservation worker said Sunday.

The 44-year-old female elephant, Motola, is expected to wear the lightweight, canvas shoe-like device for five to eight months until her leg is strong enough to carry a heavier, permanent one, said Soraida Salwala, founder of the Friends of the Asian Elephant hospital in northern Thailand.

Motola was injured in 1999 while working at a logging camp near the border with neighboring Myanmar, a region peppered with landmines after a half-century of insurgency. Her mangled, left front foot was subsequently amputated, and she has hobbled on three feet since.

Veterinarians have been attaching the sawdust-filled prosthesis to Motola daily since Aug. 10 as a therapeutic measure to help prepare her for a permanent prosthesis made from fiberglass and silicone, she said.

"We have to mold her leg," Soraida said. "If it doesn't fit, then it doesn't stay."

In the meantime, the current prosthesis may be replaced by a heavier one, perhaps filled with sand, to further exercise and strengthen the elephant's leg muscles and tendons before veterinarians attempt to attach the permanent one, she added.

The number of working elephants in Thailand has declined from about 10,000 in the 1970s to about 2,000.