An Update on Asian Elephant Ruth

At the Buttonwood Park Zoo high quality animal care is always our top priority. Dedicated animal care, veterinary, and curatorial staff work diligently to meet the husbandry, behavioral, welfare, and veterinary needs at all stages of an animal’s life – geriatric animal care is an area that BPZOO dedicates many resources to, with much success.

Recent guests to BPZOO may have noticed that Ruth, a 63-year-old female Asian elephant who has called the Zoo home since 1986, has not been as visible in the outdoor elephant habitat. Ruth has been spending much of her time convalescing inside her sand-floor barn, as she undergoes treatment for an age-related foot issue.

This past May, Ruth was diagnosed with proliferative pododermatitis – which causes too much tissue to grow around the nails, toes, or pads of her feet. The likely cause of this condition is her abnormal conformation – which refers to the skeletal structure of Ruth’s legs and feet, affecting how she stands and walks. As is common in geriatric elephants, 63-year-old Ruth’s age-related arthritis of her joints has progressively worsened, despite years of anti-inflammatory treatments and regular corrective trimming of her nails and pads. This arthritis has resulted in Ruth putting excessive, unevenly distributed pressure on parts of her feet while walking and standing, causing the pododermatitis.

Ruth is currently under veterinary care led by the Zoo’s in-house veterinary and animal care teams, along with leading veterinary and elephant foot experts from around the country. These experts have been assisting with her treatments, both in person and virtually. In addition to continued corrective foot pad and nail trimming, Ruth is also now being treated with medicated foot soaks, cryotherapy, antibiotics, several cutting-edge treatments, regular bandaging to assist in treatment and pain management medications as needed. As means to not exacerbate her foot issues, Ruth is mostly on stall rest, which allows her to relax comfortably in her barn and take the pressure off her afflicted foot and other arthritic joints. Just recently, she has begun to make short trips into the outdoor portion of the Asian elephant habitat.

Over the last few weeks, Zoo leadership has seen some stabilization of Ruth’s foot condition. Although optimistic for a recovery, the Zoo recognizes that treatment of such a significant foot issue, particularly on a geriatric animal, will be a long process. Staff are performing regular quality of life and welfare assessments of Ruth to ensure her well-being and that she is as comfortable as possible during her treatments.

Staff have been working diligently to treat Ruth’s foot condition, while also ensuring that she is comfortable and stimulated while on stall rest. We all know how Ruth is beloved by our community, so everyone can take comfort in knowing that she is receiving the best possible care for her age-related condition.

As one of the oldest elephants in the North American population, Ruth is no stranger to age-related issues, such as arthritis, and for years has required a modified diet. Animal care staff carefully chop her preferred type of hay and cook all her produce, so it is gentler on her teeth. Asian elephants have six sets of molars over the course of their lifetime, and Ruth is on her final set.

As Ruth continues to rest and receive treatment inside, she will be making short trips out into the Asian elephant habitat as her condition allows. Emily, BPZOO’s 57-year-old Asian elephant, will continue her typical routine of remaining outside during the Zoo’s operating hours. The Zoo will continue to provide updates on Ruth’s care through our website and social media pages.