If you visit Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington DC, you may notice on of zoo’s resident elephants, Shanthi, strolling around in stylish Teva boots. While the footwear makes the 9,000-pound pachyderm stand out among her peers, its primary purpose is to provide the 41-year-old relief from the side effects of arthritis, a chronic condition that causes painful inflammation and stiffness of joints.
The musically-inclined elephant (see video), who has been at the zoo since she was a year old, was first diagnosed with the disease in her front wrists ten years ago. As the arthritis has progressed, Shanthi has started to put more of her weight on her front feet. While this helps ease the pressure on her joints, it has led to painful lesions on and around her toenails. Though zoo officials have tried everything from daily pedicures to medicated foot baths, and cold laser therapy, the blisters have been difficult to treat. That’s because the bandages keeping the topical medication in place often come off when the elephant is walking.
Earlier this year, the zoo’s officials approached the makers of Teva footwear for a pair of shoes to help the distressed animal. Using Smithsonian’s 3-D Digitization Program to measure Shanthi’s foot size, the designers created a stylish custom-made pair and delivered them to the zoo in September. In case you are wondering, the size 20 boots with a 12E width are about as big as a birdbath! While it took some time to get used to, Shanthi now happily strolls around in her Velcro footwear, making it easier for zoo officials to keep the bandages on, and painful debris out.
To reduce the swelling in her joints, Shanthi was recently administered with a new therapy that has proved effective in helping horses suffering from arthritis. Shanthi’s keepers believe the treatment is working given that the elephant has been walking more and even playing in the outdoor swimming pool.
This is not the first time Teva has helped animals in need. In 2004, the company created custom shoes for Tina, a 34-year-old elephant at Tennesse’s Elephant Sanctuary, who was suffering from debilitating foot pain. In 2011, Lucky, a Santa Barbara Zoo penguin born with an impairment on his right leg, received a shoe that now helps him waddle, jump, and swim just like his able-bodied friends!