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How do you give an elephant a pedicure?

As the days turn colder and some of the animals at the Zoo spend more and more time indoors, the animal care teams get to spend more time with the animals performing necessary husbandry duties. Year-round, one of our essential duties on the Elephant Team is giving the elephants pedicures. You might see us from time to time scrubbing and cleaning up the elephant ladies’ feet. If you’re lucky, you can get a chance to see us trim up the pads and nails.

The health of the elephants’ feet is very important. Here at Zoo Atlanta, we check their feet every day to make sure no rocks, sticks or other debris get stuck in the grooves of their feet. Usually once or twice a month we will also trim up the bottoms, or pads, of their feet.

When we trim up the elephants’ feet, we use a lot of the same tools that a farrier (farriers work on horses’ hooves) uses. We use many different types of tools to help trim the pads. We also use files to help shape their nails after we give those a trim as well. Once we are done trimming and filing, we will apply a little conditioner to the nails to keep them from drying out. We also spray the pads with apple cider vinegar, which acts as a natural disinfectant, to help keep the pads clean.

These activities aren’t uncomfortable for the elephants, since the pads are up to half an inch thick and feel kind of like hard rubber. We are very careful to make sure we don’t trim sensitive areas, as having nice, healthy pads is very important.

Next time you’re here, stop by the elephant indoor area to see what we’re up to. You never know when you might get a chance to see us working on foot care.
Steve Crews
Keeper III, Mammals

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