The veterinarians and experts were stunned. Somehow, this baby elephant, who had been weak, sick, and depressed days earlier, was somehow making a swift recovery. It seemed as though he had gotten a second chance at life and he was playful and full of energy despite the fact that he was still ill and undernourished. This meant that his odds of survival had increased and it was due to a powerful bond he had formed with an unlikely animal.
The two-week-old pachyderm had been roaming the wild all by himself after his herd abandoned him. He was eventually found in Hluhluwe’s Bonamanzi Game Reserve in South Africa. It seemed like the elephant had just about given up on life, but the rescuers weren’t about to give up on him. So, they decided to pick him up and care for him the best way they knew how. But this was just the start of a rather unpleasant and prolonged experience.
At first, rescuers tried looking for the baby elephant’s original herd, because they knew that he probably wouldn’t stand a chance without his fellow elephants. But the herd rejected him and the young creature found himself all alone for the second time in his young life. So, the rescuers took him to a custom-made sanctuary for South African wildlife called the Thula Thula Private Game Reserve in Zululand. There, they named him Ubuntu, but also gave him the nickname Ellie. There, they realized why he had been rejected.
Vets at the sanctuary ran a complete medical check-up and discovered that Ellie had all sorts of health problems, including an infected umbilical hernia. Experts claimed that 99% of creatures with this condition don’t survive. But the rescuers at the reserve didn’t give up and provided Ellie with the best medical attention possible to ensure the creature bounced back. But the elephant’s health was so bad that they knew that his recovery would be a bigger challenge than they anticipated.
Ellie desperately needed milk in order to regain his strength. Unfortunately, his poor health made him lactose intolerant. So, the staff at the sanctuary tried other types of milk. They even went as far as bringing special milk formulas from Kenya and Zimbabwe. Sadly, Ellie rejected them all, which only made his malnourishment situation worse. Eventually, experts used protein, minerals, and coconut oil to synthesize a milk mixture that Ellie was willing and able to drink. But he was still in danger.
Ellie’s physical health was slowly stabilizing, but his mental condition was a different story. Caretakers like Karen Trendler, a rehabilitation and crisis response expert, said, “He wasn’t showing much interest in doing anything. He was very lethargic, very disinterested.” It turns out that Ellie was all alone and depressed. Elephants require the bonds they form with their fellow elephants in order to survive. But how would Ellie make it without a herd?
The reserve staff had originally planned to release Ellie back into the wild in the hopes that he’d join a new elephant herd or one that was made of other pachyderms that had been orphaned. But medically speaking, he wasn’t out of the woods, and on top of that, he was dealing with depression and loneliness. So, the staff knew they’d have to find him a friend that was already in the sanctuary. But there was one issue with that.
The Thula Thula Reserve provided sanctuary to a number of species like crocodiles, hyenas, leopards, zebras, giraffes, and buffalos. But unfortunately, Ellie was the only one of his kind. This meant that he would have to make a friend with an animal from another species. But it became clear that the baby pachyderm wasn’t interested in making friends with other wild animals. Fortunately, there was someone who was eager to win Ellie over.
The staff introduced Ellie to an adult male German Shepherd named Duma, who also lived on the reserve. Duma was a retired police dog, who was tender and full of affection towards everyone, including other animals. But the staff at the sanctuary didn’t really know how Ellie would behave towards Duma. So, at first, they decided to put them together in the sand pile and observe quietly, to see how their first interaction went.
To everyone at the sanctuary’s surprise and relief, Duma’s presence had managed to lighten the baby elephant up. “He suddenly started getting a little bit of interest in life again,” shared Trendler. Their relationship improved and their bond grew stronger as Ellie and Duma played together. Eventually, it was impossible to tear these two apart. But Ellie’s mood wasn’t the only thing that was showing signs of improvement.
Ellie’s happiness was on the rise, but so was his health. “Against all odds, this little elephant is still with us,” said Trendler. This spike in his health was undoubtedly the result of Duma’s friendship. But the dog wasn’t just a friend. He seemed to have taken on the role of a father figure. “We have a hard time keeping Duma away from the elephant. He’s become incredibly protective,” claimed a staff member at the reserve. But unfortunately, Duma couldn’t prevent the inevitable from happening to Ellie.
Ellie had regained his strength five months after he arrived, and everything seemed to be going well, especially now that he had a canine friend. But he hadn’t fully recovered, and one day, Ellie had suffered a setback with his health. Septicemia, which is an infection, returned and started to spread at a shocking rate. The alarmed reserve staff made one desperate attempt to get help for Ellie.
Trendler went on social media and made an urgent plea for medications. “We need to get IV colloids bought thru for a collapsed elephant calf,” she had written. Unfortunately, Ellie’s health deteriorated and he eventually passed away. A short time later, the sanctuary was inundated with messages of condolences from people all over the world who wanted to pay their respects. But there was one particular individual who took Ellie’s loss very hard.
Duma’s mood tanked after Ellie passed away, and the reserve staff knew that they needed to find something to help the dog get over Ellie. Fortunately, a new animal arrived at the reserve and she certainly needed Duma’s help after what she’d gone through. Nandi was a baby black rhino, who was rescued shortly after poachers took her mom away from her.
Nandi is a member of the endangered species list, so her recovery was very important. Fortunately, she had Duma, who was happy to lend a paw. The first thing Duma did when they met was to bring her a stuffed animal. This gesture of friendship paved the way for a meaningful relationship, which eventually led to them playfully chasing one another. It seems like Duma’s friendship with Nandi is strong, just like it had been with Ellie, and the staff knows that the baby rhino is in good hands.