Chhouk, a now 5-year-old bull elephant rescued in 2007 in the Cambodian jungle, was profiled recently by NBC News; alone and helpless after a chunk of his left front foot at least six inches long was lost to a poacher's trap, he almost died.
But, according to NBC News and the wildlife conservation and rescue organization Wildlife Alliance, Chhouk was nursed in the jungle, then taken to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center near Phnom Penh, Cambodia and fitted with a prosthetic leg.
Nick Marx, the Wildlife Alliance's Director of Wildlife Rescue and Care, asked specialists at the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics to design a false foot for Chhouk, so he could move about normally; the large hollow plastic resin prosthetic has a hard surface and soft interior and must be removed daily for cleaning.
Because the elephant is growing rapidly and his daily activities make for a lot of wear and tear, he is already wearing his fourth prosthetic.
According to Marx and conservation groups, including the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society, the illegal wildlife trade that almost killed Chhouk, and that cruelly causes ongoing and widespread animal suffering and death, is one of the biggest illicit enterprises on the planet, estimated to generate between $5 billion and $20 billion per year; Asia has become the biggest marketplace, and the United States may be second largest.
Protected and endangered species are poached for cooking into delicacies, concocting folk medicines, showing off as entertainment and collecting by exotic animal hobbyists.
"It's decimating the world's forests," Marx told NBC News.
Though Chhouk will never return to the wild, he has become a symbol of resilience, as he leads the fullest (even feistiest) life possible at the rescue center; he raises awareness of continuing threats to wildlife from poachers and inspires conservationists to save more animals.