IMAGE: ELEPHANT HOISTED UP
Apichart Weerawong  /  AP
A wild elephant that had been stuck in mud is hoisted up by a backhoe as rescue team members try to support the animal in eastern Thailand on Thursday. The elephant failed to stay on its feet, stumbled and went back down on the ground after the ropes were released from the backhoe.
updated 7/13/2006 12:13:05 PM ET 2006-07-13T16:13:05

An animal medical rescue team succeeded Thursday in hauling a partially lame elephant out of a mud hole in which he was stuck, but the five-ton beast was unable to stand up or be moved further.

The elephant had been lying on its side since getting stuck in the mud last week inside the massive Khao Ang Rue-Ni wildlife sanctuary, which sprawls over parts of five provinces in eastern Thailand.

Its left hind leg had become stuck in deep mud, and it was unable to lift itself out because of a previous injury to its right rear leg that had left it partly lame. Veterinarians had already been treating it in the wild for several months.

Elephants used to roam all around Thailand, but now only an estimated 3,000 wild elephants survive in national parks and other sanctuaries. Deforestation has forced many to move into surrounding farming communities in search of food.

A roughly equal number of elephants are domesticated, eking out a living as tourist attractions or beggars who roam Bangkok and other cities with their keepers.

After learning of the partly lame elephant's latest plight, a dozen forestry workers and veterinarians rushed to its aid earlier this week, but were unable to push it out of the hole.

Partial progress
On Thursday, however, they made partial progress by fastening a sling to the scoop of a backhoe, and hoisting the elephant so its leg would be free of the mud.

However, the elephant was unable to stand on its own, and fell over on its side next to the mud hole.

The medical team, unsure what to do next, decided to construct a care station around the beast, and called for some elephant trainers, or mahouts, to come survey the situation on Friday.

"His condition has not changed. We tried to give him nutrients, water and stimulants, so he started to have more energy. We were able to pull him out of the hole," said Teeraporn Maneeon, a veterinarian from the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants.

"But he was laying down for a long time, and his leg has gone numb, and from blood tests, we found that his muscles also have problems," he said. "So we have to focus on nutrients, and give him medicine to reduce the infection in his muscles."

Teeraporn's prognosis was guardedly optimistic.

"When his body is ready, there is a chance that he will stand again because right now he has the will to help himself again," he said. "At first, he didn't have the will at all."

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