Skeletal pathology and variable anatomy in elephant feet assessed using computed tomography

Sophie Regnault, Jonathon Dixon, Chris M R Warren-Smith, JR Hutchinson, R Weller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
462 Downloads (Pure)


Foot problems are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in elephants, but are underreported due to difficulties in diagnosis, particularly of conditions affecting the bones and internal structures. Here we evaluate post-mortem computer tomographic (CT) scans of 52 feet from 21 elephants (seven African Loxodonta africana and 14 Asian Elephas maximus), describing both pathology and variant anatomy (including the appearance of phalangeal and sesamoid bones) that could be mistaken for disease. We found all the elephants in our study to have pathology of some type in at least one foot. The most common pathological changes observed were bone remodelling, enthesopathy, osseous cyst-like lesions, and osteoarthritis, with soft tissue mineralisation, osteitis, infectious osteoarthriti, subluxation, fracture and enostoses observed less frequently. Most feet had multiple categories of pathological change (81% with two or more diagnoses, versus 10% with a single diagnosis, and 9% without significant pathology). Much of the pathological change was focused over the middle/lateral digits, which bear most weight and experience high peak pressures during walking. We found remodelling and osteoarthritis to be correlated with increasing age, more enthesopathy in Asian elephants, and more cyst-like lesions in females. We also observed multipartite, missing and misshapen phalanges as common and apparently incidental findings. The proximal (paired) sesamoids can appear fused or absent, and the predigits (radial/tibial sesamoids) can be variably ossified, though are significantly more ossified in Asian elephants. Our study reinforces the need for regular examination and radiography of elephant feet to monitor for pathology and as a tool for improving welfare.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2877
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jan 2017


  • Enthesopathy
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Radiography
  • Proboscidea
  • Bone
  • Sesamoid
  • CT
  • Remodelling


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