Sometimes, friendships come in unlikely forms – and the ones you never thought you’d end up becoming the most valuable. This can also happen in the animal kingdom, where occasionally, a member of one species forms a strong bond with a member of another species. This was the case in this remarkable tale of an orphaned baby elephant in South Africa. After being abandoned by his herd, rescued, and taken to the Thula Thula Private Game Reserve, the elephant received all the medical treatment necessary to restore his health. But something was missing. He needed a friend. The employees at the reserve were determined to succeed and didn’t disappoint, finding their patient the perfect companion to help nurse him back to health. It did wonders for the elephant’s well-being – and it won’t fail to warm your heart. Don’t miss this incredible story of cross-species friendship that overcame all the odds.
The Elephant that Was Left Behind
No one knows for sure why its herd in South Africa abandoned this baby elephant, but if it weren’t for a rescue team finding him, there’s no doubt he would have perished. Malnourished, weak and sick, the team knew his life hung in the balance.
Luckily, they were prepared to do whatever it took. Their original plan was to get the baby elephant healthy enough to have another herd adopt it. However, they didn’t expect that the medicine the elephant would receive would end up complicating those plans.
The Importance of the Herd
The best option for an abandoned baby elephant is to re-introduce it to its herd as quickly as possible in the hope that it’s allowed to re-join. Luckily, due to living near a reserve, the rescuers knew what herd he belonged to, and efforts began to reunite him with his family.
Tragically, the herd rejected several attempts to take the baby elephant back. The team quickly realized they would have to take care of him themselves, then try and release him back into his herd again at a later date. It wasn’t the ideal option, but it was the only way forward.
Naming Ellie the Elephant
The abandoned elephant was two years old when he came to the Thula Thula Private Game Reserve in Zululand, South Africa. He was given two names by the rehabilitation team: Ubuntu and Ellie. He quickly captured everyone’s heart, and everyone knew they had to help him.
The first thing the team had to do was give Ellie a thorough health assessment to determine whether he had any ailments or unobvious injuries. Then, they would be able to consider the best course of action to take. Little did they know that this would lead to the root of his problem and uncover why he was abandoned in the first place.
A Small Chance of Life
It was during the health assessment that Ellie was discovered to be suffering from several life-threatening conditions, the most severe being an infected umbilical hernia. In the wild, an elephant with this ailment dies 99% of the time.
However, the medical team and all the staff at the reserve were determined Ellie wouldn’t become another statistic. They began to develop a care plan that would ensure he would live – hopefully with his herd. Still, it wasn’t going to be easy – and the team knew it. They had grown attached to Ellie and feared for his future.
Ellie’s 24-Hour Care
The reserve assigned Ellie a 24-hour care team, which was ready to respond at a moment’s notice if anything went wrong or Ellie’s condition deteriorated. They kept a close eye on him around the clock, determined not to let him die.
As the team cared for Ellie, they discovered that, unfortunately, his health was worse than they initially thought. Heartbreakingly, and to make matters even worse, another issue arose while he was in their care. This issue was severe and took all the creativity the team possessed to find a solution.
Trying to Overcome Intolerance
Shortly after the medical team began to care for Ellie, he became intolerant to milk, which created a huge problem. This is because milk is the most important thing for the health of a baby elephant. Filled with nutrients and fat, it gives them everything they need to grow into a strong, active, and healthy adult.
At first, the team hoped Ellie was only rejecting the milk they had at the reserve, so they ordered more from various locations, including Zimbabwe and Kenya. Unfortunately, much to their disappointment, it didn’t make a difference. Ellie was still rejecting all the milk he was given.
The Wonders of Coconut Oil
Desperate to find something that Ellie would drink, the team turned to coconut oil mixed with protein and minerals. Miraculously, he took to this new formula and began growing stronger by the day. The team was extremely relieved that Ellie’s situation was improving.
With Ellie eating, building his energy levels, and getting his strength back, the team felt the pressure of the rehabilitation process begin to ease. They had successfully overcome an enormous obstacle and felt that, now, the only way was up. Little did they know, however, that the emotional turmoil was not yet over.
Yearning for a Companion
According to one of Ellie’s caretakers, the elephant “was particularly weak and particularly ill.” Ellie was becoming healthier physically, but seemed unhappy and depressed, showing little interest in doing anything and appearing very lethargic. The rescue team knew something was wrong and needed to come up with a solution fast.
Although the rescue team had given Ellie a new life, the baby elephant was alone and withdrawn without his herd around him. The companionship of humans just wasn’t enough. However, as it turned out, the situation was more serious – Ellie was dealing with severe emotional trauma.
Ellie’s Emotional State Declines
It was reasonably unsurprising, really – after all, Ellie had a particularly rough start to life. Growing up in the animal kingdom isn’t easy at the best of times, and to then be abandoned by his herd was devastating for him. As a result, even though Ellie’s health was improving, the rehab team could see his emotional state was declining.
It was clear that Ellie needed to be around elephants. Socializing is critically essential to elephants in the wild, and Ellie’s only friends were human. Although finding another elephant was impossible, the team realized that they needed to find Ellie a companion before he grew even more depressed.
Choosing the Perfect Friend
The Thula Thula Private Game Reserve was home to many different kinds of animals. Some, such as leopards and crocodiles, wouldn’t have been appropriate for Ellie to befriend, for obvious reasons, while others might have been more appropriate.
However, Ellie didn’t show much interest in any of the animals that the rehab team introduced him to. This was reasonably discouraging, but hope wasn’t lost. The team was determined to find a solution. There was still one more animal for Ellie to meet, and his name was Duma.
Duma Makes His Entrance
Duma was an adult male German Shepherd that lived on the grounds of the reserve. He used to be a police dog but, on the reserve, he was free to wander around and make friends with whoever he wanted. Despite his official working background, Duma was extremely good-natured.
He was well known at the reserve for his tender and caring demeanor with all the animals there, so the rehab team suspected that he might make the perfect companion for Ellie. But would the baby elephant and German Shepherd bond in the way everyone was hoping they would?
A Match Made in Heaven
As soon as Ellie and Duma met, it was clear that they became friends instantly. Almost immediately, Ellie’s attitude changed. He appeared happier and was interested in playing again. As one the rehab team described it: “We introduced Duma and the elephant in the sand pile, and it immediately cheered the elephant up.”
Over the next few weeks, Ellie became happy again. The relationship between him and Duma grew stronger every day until they were practically inseparable. It was a complete success: the rehab team at the reserve couldn’t have found Ellie a better companion if they tried.
Making a Surprising Recovery
Ellie and Duma were inseparable, and Ellie’s fatigue and depression both appeared to be gone. As for his physical setbacks, they were also almost a thing of the past. During the day, Ellie and Duma could be found playing together in dirt mounds and taking nap breaks under nearby trees.
It was heart-warming to observe, and some of the workers at the reserve even said it seemed as though Ellie would smile when they saw his canine friend approaching. It looked like the long journey to his recovery was finally coming to an end.
Assuming a Paternal Role
Duma took his role as Ellie’s friend exceptionally seriously. In fact, he took it so seriously that, after weeks of playing together, he took on more of a paternal role toward the elephant. The reserve’s employees said it became hard to keep Duma away from Ellie – wherever Ellie went, Duma followed.
Duma also taught Ellie how to play and assumed the role of his personal protector. He would provide the young elephant with comforting nuzzles and bring him sticks to play with. Within months, it appeared as though Ellie had made a full recovery. But the team was going to have a tough decision about his future.
Capturing the World’s Attention
The rehab team couldn’t believe Ellie’s successful recovery and friendship with Duma, saying: “Against all the odds, this little elephant is still with us.” For the first time since his arrival, Ellie was healthy, happy, and playful. The team began to take videos of the unusual best friends and post them online.
Before long, Ellie and Duma became an internet sensation. However, as happy as this made the rehab team, it also brought a new problem: with Ellie’s health in good standing, they needed to consider reintroducing him to the herd. But what would Duma do without his new best friend?
The Future Is Uncertain
The original plan was to re-introduce Ellie to his herd when he recovered. However, considering the friendship he formed with Duma and how profoundly it had affected him, that future was suddenly questionable. Another option was to place Ellie with a herd living on the reserve.
But both of these options meant breaking Ellie’s bond with Duma. The reserve couldn’t keep the elephant in the rehab center forever, but just like when Ellie first showed up sick and depressed, the decision of what to do next was far more complicated than it appeared.
Buying Time Before Making a Decision
The rehab team didn’t know what to do, but luckily, an immediate decision wasn’t necessary. Obviously, they couldn’t keep Ellie forever, but they could take as much time as they needed to contemplate his future and ensure the best course of action was taken. The happy bond with Duma ensured that.
Everything seemed to be working in the reserve’s favor. Every obstacle had been overcome, and the team had successfully nursed Ellie back to health with the help of Duma, the dog. However, no one predicted the devastation awaiting them.
Disaster Strikes at the Reserve
Just when everyone at the reserve thought the worst was behind them, disaster struck. In January 2016, Ellie was struck ill, and the team that had spent months caring for him was absolutely blindsided. It was the last thing they were expecting.
The reserve’s medical team was forced to jump back into action to save the elephant once again. Based on their history, they thought they were medically prepared – but it was extremely heart-wrenching to see Ellie so ill again.
Under-Supplied and Desperate for Help
Ellie was exceptionally poorly again, but that wasn’t the only problem. The staff was under-supplied, and tweeting a plea for help was one of the only things they could do to get aid. The tweet read: “We need to get IV colloids brought thru for a collapsed elephant calf.”
So, what exactly had happened? Well, after months of recovery, the septicemia infection that Ellie had when he first came to the reserve had unexpectedly returned and was quickly spreading through his body. The medical team persevered, but it looked touch and go whether Ellie would recover.
The Tragedy of Losing the Battle
Despite making what appeared to be a full recovery throughout five months, Ellie the elephant tragically passed away five days after his infection returned. Everyone at the reserve was heartbroken. The happy ending that they had thought they’d achieved had been cruelly snatched away.
They posted the sad news online and were bombarded with heartfelt condolences from Ellie’s millions of fans. They called Ellie tough and brave, and despite his untimely end, no one doubted his story would live on. People were also concerned about Duma and what would happen to him now.
Finally Back in the Wild
Although the rehab team was overcome with “deep sadness and so many tears” when Ellie died, they found comfort knowing they had initially nursed him back to health and showed him happiness before his life ended.
After the reserve buried Ellie, they posted a note online that read: “Ellie has been returned to the wild, buried in a special place at Thula where his spirit can roam with the herd.” The reserve knew that although they had lost the battle with Ellie, they had done everything they possibly could to save him.
A Bond that Won’t Be Forgotten
Ellie’s millions of fans weren’t the only ones who had to say goodbye to him. Duma, Ellie’s best friend, and adopted father needed to bid farewell too. Although it’s unclear exactly how Duma took the news, there’s no doubt he would have been devastated in his own way.
However, Duma didn’t give up on his work. He was a retired police dog, after all, and Ellie wasn’t the first animal he helped take care of. And he certainly would not be the last, either. Before long, Duma found another friend on the reserve – a rhino named Nandi. But, as it turns out, there are lots of amazing cross-species friendships out there!
Koko and Her Babies
Koko the gorilla, from Woodside Hill in California, the US, is famous for her knowledge of sign language. However, she yearned for a family or a companion but was unable to have any babies herself. Therefore, when she was finally given a kitten, her motherly instincts kicked in.
When Koko turned 44, the ape was introduced to an entire litter of kittens. After interacting with them gently and carefully, she picked one up and cuddled it, and put another on her head. In sign language, she announced that the two kittens were now her babies.
The Long-Necked Friends
Bea the giraffe and Wilma, the ostrich, are both residents of Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida, the US. Although their enclosure is an impressive 65 acres in size, so they don’t ever have to interact if they don’t wish to, they are never far away from each other and are the best of friends.
Perhaps they feel some close connection or affiliation because both of them have long necks. Either way, this unlikely pair clearly enjoy being together and can be found playing with each other or relaxing by the water.
The Fox and the Hound
Tinni the dog and Sniffer, the wild fox, are the real-life versions of the animals from the film The Fox and the Hound. After meeting in the forests of Norway while Tinni was out on a walk with owner Torgeir Berge, they became best friends and have remained that way ever since.
The two immediately clicked and now spend the majority of their time playing in the woods while Berge documents their experiences on film. Sniffer has since inspired Berge to become an activist against Norway’s fox fur trade. Additionally, he hopes to publish a book about the animals’ unlikely friendship soon.
Meeting Mabel’s Unlikely Chicks
When Mabel the chicken injured her foot, her future looked uncertain. However, instead of cooking and eating her, Mabel’s owner took her into his home and made her a pet. However, moving into the house wasn’t the only new thing for Mabel – a litter of puppies was waiting for her!
Strangely enough, the one-year-old hen quickly took to roosting on the puppies while their mother was away. It makes Mabel happy, the mother has a puppy-sitter, and the puppies seem to love it too – so everyone’s a winner in this story!
Big Cats and Little Dogs
Five years ago, a Dachshund named Milo took Bonedigger the lion cub under his wing (or paw!) after it was discovered that the cub was suffering from metabolic bone disease, leaving him disabled. Despite their apparent differences, the two struck up a friendship so strong that it remained after Bonedigger matured into a fully grown lion.
Fast-forward five years later and the 500-pound lion and 11-pound pup are still best friends. They can often be seen relaxing and playing together and generally enjoying each other’s company. Sometimes, they are even joined by Milo’s other canine friends Bullet and Angel.
JoeJoe and His Circle of Friends
Capybaras are known to be incredibly gentle animals that get along well with other species – and JoeJoe, pictured in this photograph, is no different. He can regularly be seen interacting with many other kinds of animals — for example, cuddling with puppies, swimming with ducklings, or rolling around with the chicks that he shares a home within Arizona.
A genuinely affectionate capybara, JoeJoe will make friends with almost anyone or anything – and as a result, has a website dedicated to him and his unlikely friendships. He’s possibly the most famous capybara on social media!
Real-Life Bambi and Thumper
This dynamic duo was captured on film by animal photographer Tanja Askani. From the series of pictures taken, it’s clear that these two didn’t happen to just be near each other or crossing paths. Instead, they are actually unlikely companions, and the friendliness between them is natural to see.
They have been documented exploring together, relaxing with each other under a tree, and even showing clear signs of affection. Just when we thought Disney films are fantasy, nature throws this unique pair together for us to adore.
A Dog Is an Orangutan’s Best Friend
Suryia the orangutan and Roscoe the Blue Tick Hound live together in a rare and endangered species sanctuary in the US. Although dogs are obviously not rare or endangered, Roscoe has lived with Suryia ever since he followed her and her handlers home one day, forming an unlikely cross-species friendship.
When Suryia was transferred to the endangered species sanctuary, Roscoe joined her. Ever since, the two have been the best of friends and can be seen enjoying relaxing and enjoying each other’s company, playing, swimming, and posing for pictures together.
Unlikely Childhood Friends
Recently rescued by the Keepers of the Wild Exotic Animal Sanctuary in Arizona, the US, Anthony the lion and Riley the coyote met when they were both only one month old. Instantly, they became the best of friends and have been inseparable ever since.
Their bond was so evident that they were featured in a PBS Nature episode called “Animal Odd Couples,” which showed them playing, grooming each other, and even watching over as the other one slept. Additionally, Riley accompanied Anthony when he left the sanctuary for surgeries because both animals would experience severe separation anxiety.
The Tortoise and the Cow
Simon the cow (better known as “Simon Cow-ell”!) arrived at the WFFT Wildlife Rescue Center in Thailand in February 2016 after losing part of his hind leg. He was put in a temporary location in a field and was eventually supposed to join two other cows when he was ready. But Simon had other plans.
He formed a strong albeit unlikely friendship with a giant tortoise named Leonardo, who had been transferred to the center from Bangkok Zoo after it shut in 2013. Simon likes to snuggle next to Leonardo and rest his head on his shell, and they follow each other everywhere. They now live in their own permanent enclosure.
When Opposite Animals Attract
J’aime came to the Rhino Orphanage in South Africa in March 2017 but was still too young and small to be with the other rhinos. After being there for a few months, she made friends with Joey, a lamb who had been abandoned by her mother and brought into the sanctuary. Although Joey was only a few days old, the two became unlikely best friends.
Now, they go on daily walks together and eat from the same trough. Just this May, the orphanage adopted another lamb named Penny, who they introduced into J’aime and Joey. Penny has been accepted into the friendship group, and the gang is going strong!
The Real-Life Tom and Jerry
Batman, a dumbo-eared rat, and Pumpkin, the resident cat at a Tennessee animal shelter, make another unlikely pair. At the shelter, Pumpkin has a reputation for showing compassion to any species that enters the building. After the shelter acquired Batman from an animal control officer, they were cleaning out his cage when Pumpkin decided to jump right in.
Although cats and rodents are not meant to get along – as we know from the cartoon Tom and Jerry – Pumpkin and Batman are here to prove otherwise. They’re now firm friends and accompany each other everywhere around the sanctuary.