FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Bittersweet Anniversary of Elephant Landmine Survivor’s First Steps
San Francisco, CA – August 16, 2010 – One year ago documentary filmmaker Windy Borman recorded the step heard round the world. After 10 years of surgery and rehabilitation, Motala, a 48-year old elephant landmine survivor at the Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE) Elephant Hospital outside of Lampang, Thailand, took her first step on her new prosthetic limb.
Building Motala’s prosthesis was a 10-year quest for FAE’s founder, Soraida Salwala, and Dr. Therdchai Jivacate, Associate Professor of Thailand’s Prostheses Foundation. Motala arrived at FAE after stepping on a landmine along the Thai-Myanmar border in August 1999, but it wasn’t until Baby Mosha, another elephant landmine survivor, arrived at FAE in 2006 that they thought they could build prostheses to help the elephants walk again.
“I first met Soraida, Motala and Baby Mosha in 2007 while I was filming in Northern Thailand,” says Borman. “I knew landmines posed a threat to humans, but I had no idea endangered species, such as Asian Elephants, were stepping on them. At that moment I knew I needed to do something, and since I’m a filmmaker that meant I’d found my next documentary project”.
Over the next two years, Salwala and Borman stayed in touch about the elephants’ progress. Then, on July 31, 2009, Salwala sent an email that changed everything. “She wrote, Motala’s getting her leg in 2 weeks. Can you be here to film it?” remembers Borman. “I said, yes, and then called everyone in my cell phone, emailed everyone I knew and blasted it all over Facebook. By the end of the weekend, through donations and airline mile contributions, I’d raised enough money to buy my ticket back to Thailand.”
Using the sand casting system developed by Dr. Yeongchi Wu of the Center for International Rehabilitation (CIR), Dr. Jivacate made a prosthesis for Baby Mosha in 2008. It supported her weight and she accepted it quickly, which gave Salwala hope that they could use the same technology for Motala.
“Filming the two-day building process was like watching an episode of Myth Busters,” says Borman. “I was amazed by the technical process, but there was a lot of anxiety as to whether Motala would accept the prosthetic or if it could even hold her weight.”
“An adult Asian Elephant weighs about 3 tons,” explains Borman, “and two-thirds of their body weight is on the front of their body. Since Motala is missing her front left leg, they needed to build a prosthesis that could hold approximately 2 tons when she walked. And what were they using to build it? Modified car parts, mainly.”
After two days of molding, welding, sanding and adjusting, the Prostheses Foundation was finally ready for Motala to try on her new prosthesis. Watching Motala take her first steps, Salwala says, “My heart is larger than it was. Everyone is happy, especially Motala herself”.
“Seeing Motala walk on her own four legs was one of the most memorable moments of my life. It’s a somewhat happy ending to the on-going problem of landmines in Southeast Asia and the rest of the world,” says Borman.
According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, 37 countries have refused to sign the Mine Ban Treaty, which requires signatories to de-mine their country and destroy their landmine stockpiles. Myanmar (Burma) is one of the countries that has refused to sign the treaty. The United States is another.
On August 4, 2010, another elephant landmine survivor, 22-year old Mae Ka Pae, arrived at FAE’s Elephant Hospital after stepping on a landmine along the Thai-Myanmar border. She makes the 13th elephant landmine victim to be treated at FAE since it opened in 1993, but there are countless other animal landmine victims that go unreported and untreated because they usually occur in the rural, mountainous borders between countries or territories.
“The anniversary of Motala taking her first steps on a prosthesis is bittersweet”, said Borman. “It reminds us how far we’ve come, but the news of Mae Ka Pae stepping on a landmine reminds us how far we still need to go to eradicate the threat of landmines for all species.”
“We cannot let animals or humans suffer any longer because of landmines,” says Borman. “We need a film that can crack our collective consciousness and demand all nations sign and enforce the Mine Ban Treaty. I hope my film, The Eyes of Thailand, can do that.”
The Eyes of Thailand is the inspirational story of Soraida Salwala’s quest to help two elephant landmine survivors—Motala and Baby Mosha—walk on their own four legs. Treating their wounds was only part of the journey; building elephant-sized prostheses was another. Directed and Produced by Windy Borman. Produced by Tim VandeSteeg.
The Eyes of Thailand is currently in post-production with plans to release in 2011. To view the trailer, please visit http://eyesofthailand.com
Director & Producer, The Eyes of Thailand
PO Box 420395
San Francisco, CA 94142 USA
The Eyes of Thailand website: http://www.eyesofthailand.com
FAE’s website: http://www.elephant-soraida.com/index.php/en/
Mine Ban Treaty: http://www.icbl.org/index.php/icbl/Treaties
Unsigned States: http://www.icbl.org/index.php/icbl/Universal/MBT/States-Not-Party
CIR Network: http://www.cirnetwork.org/