11/15/1982 at 01:00 AM EST
It sounds like an old elephant joke—"Why was the pachyderm wearing corrective shoes? Because her doctor told her to"—but this one is on the level. It seems that Kubwa, the Indianapolis Zoo's 6-year-old, one-ton African elephant, developed sore ankles because she grew too fast. So her keeper, Deborah Olson, was aided by Donald Menchhofer, whose company makes harness for horses. Menchhofer wears hard-to-find size 13 shoes and empathized with Kubwa's problem. "Corrective shoes for an elephant are hardly a stock item," says Menchhofer. "When the Great Designer designed elephants, He didn't design them to wear shoes." So Menchhofer made some elephantine tennies with rubber, metal, mesh and leather straps to support Kubwa's wobbly ankles. "To add a little style," he says proudly, he added a dashing racing stripe to "make them look like big Adidas." Then he personally fitted Kubwa with her new footwear and reports: "She looked like a little kid on ice skates for the first time." Zoo keeper Olson says Kubwa misses her daily constitutionals; she's not allowed to move around much and has gone on a diet so she won't grow so fast. But all in all, she's taking it in stride.