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Following a very successful visit to the Lilayi Elephant orphanage in Zambia in mid May 2014 by Catherine & Leanne from Naturally Animals, the staff at the orphanage have continued with both the Applied Zoopharmacognosy (self-selection) and the Red Light Therapy. the Red Light Therapy has been given to Suni upto three times per day, and with the use of the herbal remedies via self-selection and topical application with Suni, she is making excellent progress. All the elephants at the orphanage have benefited from the introduction of these new therapies.

The trip was made possible by the extremely generous donations from Naturally Animals friends and customers – we are all very grateful for this support. Photonic Health kindly donated both a professional and standard light, and Naturally Animals donated a wide range of essential oils, clay and aloe for ongoing use. And of course Rachael Murton, Lousie Ellis And the Elephant Keepers from Game Rangers International for hosting us and allowing us access to the amazing elephants.

Suni’s condition (physical and emotional) has continued to improve since our visit. She was incredibly responsive to both the red light therapy and the self-selection. Due to the improvements in the condition of her leg / foot since the introduction of these therapies, she is now allowed to mud-bathe daily (this was not able to happen due to previous levels of infection prior to our visit) and interacts freely with the other elephants in the Boma at lunchtime. This, with being offered essential oils during treatments, appears to have greatly reduced her anxious and frustrated behaviour during treatments. Typical behaviour patterns before our treatments included pacing, mouthing of fence poles in her stable and occasional charging towards staff during her wound cleaning. Her self selection and red light sessions have also facilitated a progression with her relationship with other members of the group, as she is now able to join in this important lunch-time play session.

She enjoys play interactions with the other elephants, particularly Nkala and Musolole. Her appetite continues to be good. She can occasionally become very tired in the evenings and will lie down to sleep as soon as she is put into her stable for the night. This is usually after she has enjoyed a particularly enthusiastic play session in the Boma at lunchtime.

Her growth rate records demonstrate that her body condition has improved since May 2014, particularly the muscle tone of her rear right thigh and rump area. Her body mass has also increased.

Condition of right hind leg/foot

Since the removal of a small number of bone fragments from the open tract in Suni’s foot in April and the subsequent course of Gentamycin antibiotics, the circumference of the foot (at the height of the top of the tract) has reduced from 68.5cm on 31/3/14, to 60cm 27/06/14. The amount of exudate from the tract has reduced. The use of green benzonite clay to pack the foot wounds also seems to have helped. At the time of the visit by Naturally Animals in May, the leg was very swollen with significant amounts of exudate being flushed three times per day from the wound. During treatments Suni displayed anxious behaviours as discussed above.

However, during the course of the week, with the addition of the self-selecting essential oils (for both emotional and physical support), using the natural remedies as part of the wound treatment protocol (for example flushing the wound with a solution of essential oils and using topical seaweed extract and green clay to protect the open wounds) and red light therapy, the leg swelling had sufficiently reduced to allow the night boot to fit again. In addition, the visible signs of the infection and swelling of the leg had improved significantly enough to allow Suni to bath and play without her boot in the Boma. The fact the her leg would now fit again into her night boot, due to the reduced swelling, allowed extra support during the night which is now facilitating the leg strengthening to continue.

As of July there is no longer pus production from the tract. The top of the tract has closed completely and there is a rapidly closing hole at the base of the foot (through the toenail). The swelling has dissipated and there is no increased heat in the foot. The tract can therefore now only be flushed at the base and is cleaned out with cotton wool to check for infection, but for the last few weeks it has been free from exudate.

Another noticeable change has been that Suni appears to show feeling and possibly pain in the foot during cleaning.  She particularly reacts to the cleaning out of the hole in the toenail and appears to ‘flinch’, followed by the raising of her bad foot off the ground. This has happened on a number of occasions and directly follows the wound cleaning around the toe area. This is an excellent and important progression, and may suggest that feeling is returning to areas of her foot. The application daily of the leg stimulation gel, containing essential oils selected by Suni, and the red light therapy that Suni has been receiving three times per day are likely to be contributing factors to this improvement. This also demonstrates the amazing level of trust that Suni has in her keepers as, despite feeling sensations, she allows the treatments to be undertaken. The relationship and skill displayed by the Keepers and the staff is second to none.


Suni’s gait seems to have improved recently. She seems to walk less on her toe and lifts her foot before placing it correctly on the ground displaying a more even weight distribution.. However, she still uses the boot to ‘push off’ on when moving quickly. She is now wearing a boot throughout the day and night, only being ‘bootless’ for 1 hour at lunchtime so that she can mud bathe. Her gait without the boot has improved significantly through wearing the night boot; she places her foot flatter on the ground and at times its almost difficult to see she has a problem, however she still rolls slightly  to the outside edge of her foot and the degree of this increases if the boot is left off her foot for too long.

Response to Red Light Therapy and essential oils

During treatment with the red lights Suni is generally relaxed. She is more tolerant of the red light therapy treatment compared to acupuncture sessions or NST, during which Suni could be quite agitated. The use of the essential oils and floral waters offered for self-selection during the red light sessions is an important contributor to her continued improvement, physically and emotionally, and will also be a vital part of her preparation and recovery from her pending operation.

During the therapy sessions with the red lights, Suni is offered essential oils to ‘self select’, and can choose to inhale or ingest the oils. She still has a strong preference for floral waters, including rosewater, orange blossom water and jasmine water. She can sometimes ingest up to 750ml of these at a time, especially the rosewater. During initial sessions with Naturally Animals, Suni displayed significant emotional releases when working with Mimosa, Marjoram, Neroil, Rose Otto & Floral Water, Violet leaf, Linden blossom and Vanilla. The fact that she rarely needs the support of these oils now (although some are left around her stable at night) shows how far she has progressed during such a short time.

When the oils were first introduced, Suni was more responsive to them. During the morning therapy she would often inhale and ingest orange oil and sometimes peppermint. After a few days Suni became less interested in the oils, as expected as her body rebalanced.

At lunchtime, Suni frequently chooses to inhale manuka oil but not ingest. She almost certainly will choose to ingest the floral waters. Whilst the wound is being flushed, quite frequently Suni will choose to inhale violet leaf and lavender, and will very occasionally ingest the violet leaf. When oils first began to be offered, Suni would choose to ingest and inhale clove and garlic during treatment, but her interest in these oils has since decreased (but note she is still ingesting garlic in a water bucket most nights).

During evening therapy with the red lights, Suni is generally just content to browse. She will occasionally ingest some floral waters and sometimes chooses to inhale German Chamomile and Yarrow. She is always offered a bucket of water with garlic and one with yarrow outside her stable, and most nights will drink at least a quarter of each one. We would expect Suni to continue to show an interest in the garlic oil until all infection has cleared. Using the essential oils and noting how her responses change can also help her keepers gauge the level of infection, general health and emotional status and provide a valuable & safe support package for all the other elephants.

Overall the use of Red Light Therapy and essential oils seems to have helped to improve Suni’s general health and welfare, although it is yet unclear whether it has helped with the underlying issues of bone degradation and nerve repair. The enthusiasm and support of all Suni’s keepers in taking on board the new therapies is a testament to the expertise provided at this exceptional project and Naturally Animals will continue to support both the elephants and the staff as required.

Suni is now facing her next challenge of an operation on her leg in August – we will be able to update everyone more after this next phase. Thank you all for your ongoing support and anyone wishing to donate to Suni can do so in the following ways: and