Diagnosed with a life-threatening autoimmune disorder in April, Lucky the painting pachyderm was on death’s doorstep. Her face, mouth and throat were swollen and she had trouble opening her eyes.
“It was heartbreaking stuff,” said Nick Marx, director of the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Centre located about 40km southwest of Phnom Penh.
“Many times we thought: ‘Ah, she cracked it, she’s getting better’. But then she’d be getting sick again and again. She ate almost nothing for two months.”
Lucky, who is 16 years old, came to the zoo after being found abandoned at six months, most likely because her parents had been slain by poachers. Through a rewards system she learned a variety of tricks, the most famous being the ability to paint with her trunk, and became a favourite of visitors.
“She’s a spirited, happy, friendly elephant,” said Marx. “She likes people – she was hand raised by her keeper – but she’s also independent and has her own mind which has made her a little bit difficult to treat because she didn’t want to take oral medicine.”
Lucky contracted the disorder, known as immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, following a series of nasty infections that started in mid-February.
The treatment involved an intensive regime of steroids that, because she refused to take them orally, had to be intravenously administered through her ear every morning.
She also had to be chained to the ground during the whole process, which could take up to six hours, something she fought furiously despite being weakened by the illness.
While Lucky is now doing better, the expensive medical treatment has so far left the centre out of pocket a staggering $35,000. “To save the life of such a large animal you need large daily doses of very highly specialised medication, which is extremely expensive,” says Emma Pollard, a tour guide at the centre.
To help cover the cost, the Wildlife Alliance, a New York-based group that supports Phnom Tamao, has devised a unique fundraiser: an art sale of Lucky’s own trunk-made paintings.
So far the NGO has auctioned off two of her paintings done prior to her illness for $1,130, along with several painted T-shirts. They’ve also managed to raise $25,000 in donations specifically for Lucky.
But they are not out of the woods yet. The alliance is still about $10,000 dollars short of their goal.
“We still need more money,” said Marx. “And we’re still buying expensive steroids for her. To be honest, it will probably cost around $40,000 to save her life.”
Lucky’s ordeal is not completely over either, but her friendly disposition has returned and she is back on her morning walks through the forest.
She is also, slowly, returning to the canvas. “She’s fine and seems to be on the mend,” said Marx. “She’s happy and eating well. She’s enjoying her life again.”
To find out more information on how you can donate to the #SaveLucky campaign, visit wildlifealliance.org.