The Biggest Feet in the Zoo

The Oklahoma City Zoo’s elephant program encompasses daily feedings, exercises, baths enrichment activities and health checks. As a part of the elephant team, I enjoy doing footwork on the elephants the most.

Footwork is a very important part of keeping our elephants healthy. Everyday during each elephant’s morning bath, we hose off and inspect their feet for any problems. An elephant’s foot pad is like a giant shock absorber that enables them to walk, swim, climb, stomp on branches, play in the mud and walk in the sand. This pad can be compared to a thick callous on human feet.  As the elephant’s pad continues to grow, it can develop extra flaps of skin where rocks or other items can collect causing discomfort and other potentially troublesome problems. We use special footwork tools to trim this extra skin to prevent debris from getting lodged in or around the pad.  Shortening the nails on their feet is also important because long and cracked can hinder an elephant’s ability to move freely. 

Keeping these Asian elephants happy and healthy--whose population continues to decline in the wild--is incredibly rewarding, especially when they inspire more than one million annual guests to support the conservation of this species and to protect their natural habitats.

– Toni Rife, elephant caretaker

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