Phu Ake and the Weed Killer Drama

elephant in trouble

The inquisitive Phu Ake at the yard where he had drunk the weed killer

An urgent call to our vet, Dr Aon, resulted in her travelling 113km in the mobile clinic to treat an elephant that had swallowed some weed killer. Dr Aon drove from the STEF Veterinary Centre at Khok Kloi, Phang Nga to Phanom District, Surat Thani to visit the miscreant elephant – a 26-year-old male with only one tusk who is called Phu Ake. (We don’t know how he lost his other tusk, but he’s clearly a bit accident prone.)

The owner told Dr Aon that he’d noticed Phu Ake was drooling and didn’t have his usual appetite, and while watching him the owner eat saw wounds in his mouth. Suspecting trouble, the owner rushed back to the yard where Phu Ake had been tethered, and spotted a plastic pot of weedkiller that must have been inadvertently left within reach of the the nosey elephant.

On close inspection, Dr Aon found canker sores, called aphthous ulcers, on Phu Ake’s tongue and soft palate. These lesions also appeared, though to a lesser degree, on his trunk. It was clear that Phu Ake had received a chemical burn from the weedkiller (paraquat dichloride) he’d drunk from the bottle. Fortunately, he’d only consumed a small amount, otherwise he could have had problems in his gastrointestinal tract with stomach ulceration.

Dr Aon collected blood for examination on the haematology and blood chemistry, and then treated Phu Ake with an intramuscular injection providing long-acting antibiotic and anti-inflammatory. The next day she rang the owner, who reported that Phu Ake was eating and drinking well, with normal defecation. Dr Aon will continue to provide further injections of anti-biotics and anti-inflammatory, and has also provided chlorhexidine (an antiseptic for mouth washing) and triamcinolone ointment for oral inflammatory or ulcerative lesions.

### We now have an update on Phu Ake:  the bloods taken on Dr Aon’s first visit had shown signs of infection (a high white blood cell count) and high enzyme functioning in the liver. The blood results from her most recent visit (her third in one week) showed that the white blood cell and liver enzymes were back to the normal range. This shows that Phu Ake has responded well to treatment and, as can be seen from the fourth photo below, his palate on the mend.

[Click on photos to enlarge and read captions]