Every animal deserves friends, and seeing them together is always a blessing. Pairs of unlikely friends–cheetahs and dogs, cats and birds, tigers and monkeys–go viral online. In the case of an orphaned elephant in South Africa, you’ll never guess which unlikely animal became his pal. Elephants are exceptionally smart creatures who can befriend almost anyone. On the Thula Thula Private Game Reserve, one depressed baby elephant needed that connection. Prepare yourself for a heartwarming story of a friendship that nursed this elephant back to health.
Lost, Malnourished, And Alone
If the rescue team hadn’t showed up, this elephant wouldn’t have made it. Malnourished and ill, the baby elephant wandered alone in the wilderness. Although people have theories, nobody knows why this animal ended up orphaned. But it didn’t matter. All that mattered was saving his life.
Fortunately, this little one hadn’t given up. The rescue team planned to improve the baby’s health and hand him to another herd. Since elephants are social creatures, they willingly adopt other babies. But no one expected the relationship that would complicate those plans.
Get Him In A Herd, Fast
Researchers understood that isolation can destroy an elephant’s well-being. Their base, the Thula Thula Private Game Reserve, housed another herd. The rescuers tried their best to assimilate the orphan into this family. They knew this herd well and assumed that they would gladly shelter the baby elephant.
However, not all herds will accept a new member. This herd rejected the orphan several times, no matter what mood they seemed to be in. Baffled, the rescuers contemplated their next move. Since no one would take the elephant, they nursed him themselves until they could find a suitable herd.
Meet Ellie, The Struggling Baby Elephant
At two years old, the baby elephant entered the games of Thula Thula in Zululand, South Africa. The rehabilitation team voted on what to name him and debated between Ubuntu and Ellie. Ellie seemed to fit the elephant’s personality, and he quickly captured the team’s hearts.
Sadly, they knew that Ellie’s time was running out. Before they could treat him, they had to give him a health assessment. They could cure the malnourishment, but Ellie was evidently sick with an unknown disease.
Ellie’s Condition Was Worse Than Anyone Expected
After the health assessment, the medical team concluded that Ellie suffered from several conditions. The worst and most life-threatening was his umbilical hernia. In the wild, elephants with this ailment have a one percent chance to live. Since the team had already grown close to Ellie, they weren’t willing to let him become another statistic.
Rehabbing this orphan wouldn’t be easy. With no other animals to care for him, Ellie may not have maintained his fighting spirit. Even so, the medical team never gave up. They developed an extensive care plan that would get Ellie back on his feet.
Healing Ellie Didn’t Seem To Go Anywhere
The Thula Thula staff put Ellie under 24-hour care. They monitored him day and night, and doctors stood by to rush in at a moment’s notice. Considering how young Ellie was, a single slip-up could further endanger his life.
Over time, the medical team discovered that Ellie’s health was worse than they thought. Despite the medicine, nourishment, and consistent companionship, Ellie’s health deteriorated the longer he stayed at the game reserve. What was happening? Why wasn’t their consistent support working?
Eventually, Ellie Stopped Eating
Like all young mammals, Ellie required a steady supply of milk. A mother’s milk contains enough fat and protein to support a baby’s rapid growth. The medical team fed Ellie a special nutrient-rich milk to re-nourish him. But shortly after they took him in, Ellie became intolerant to this milk.
At first, researchers believed that Ellie didn’t like their specific milk. They ordered several milks from Zimbabwe and Kenya, but Ellie rejected all of them. This created a huge problem. If Ellie didn’t eat, no medicine in the world could possibly keep him alive.
Finally, An Unexpected Meal
With no viable milk, the team began scrambling for anything that Ellie would drink. Eventually, one member fed him a mixture of coconut oil with protein and minerals. Beyond everyone’s belief, Ellie drank it. He started eating again, and the team watched him grow stronger by the day.
As Ellie ate and gained vitality, the team felt an enormous weight lift from their shoulders. Ellie was on effective medicine and finally ate enough to defeat his malnourishment. The rescuers felt that they had surpassed the tallest obstacle they would have to face. They were wrong.
But Ellie’s Illness Wasn’t Physical
Although Ellie’s physical health improve, his energy didn’t. His spirit seemed to deflate like a popped balloon. Despite the exciting new area, he didn’t show interest in anything. He became incredibly lethargic, or as one caretaker described, “particularly weak and particularly ill.”
The rescuers had already given Ellie all the care and support he needed. So what was wrong? The answer became clear: Ellie suffered from depression, which can afflict isolated elephants. Not only that, but Ellie grappled with severe emotional trauma.
Losing His Family Devastated Ellie
As an orphan, Ellie grew up with a rough start. Elephants, like humans, are incredibly social creatures. Being abandoned by his herd left Ellie with gaping emotional wounds. At this rate, no amount of medicine or coconut oil could revive his broken spirit.
The rescue team understood this. Because their current elephant herd wouldn’t accept Ellie, they needed to find him another friend. At the time, Ellie’s only companions were humans, none of which he was particularly close to. His health depended on finding a loving companion.
Which Animal Supplied That Emotional Support?
Fortunately, the Thula Thula Private Game Reserve housed several species of animals. Some, such as crocodiles and leopards, wouldn’t make a viable companion for obvious reasons. But other animals, such as bison and zebras, may accept him. Herd animals are naturally caring and will tend to babies even if they aren’t the same species.
One by one, the rescuers introduced these animals to Ellie. He didn’t seem to bond with any of them; in fact, he seemed entirely disinterested. Although this discouraged the rescuers, they never gave up. They had one potential companion left, and his name was Duma.
The Goodest Boy For Ellie
Duma was an adult German shepherd and a former police dog. On the reserve, he was allowed to wander wherever he wished. Since Duma wasn’t seriously attached to any group, the rescuers assumed that he wouldn’t stick with Ellie. Once again, they were wrong.
Duma had a habit of caring for every animal on the reserve. When it came to Ellie, he was no different. Despite police dogs’ reputation as gruff and aggressive, Duma carried an aura that attracted others to him.
A Bond That Transformed Ellie
Once Ellie met Duma, his attitude changed. As if overnight, Ellie grew interested in his surroundings. He ran around and began playing again. “We introduced Duma and the elephant in the sandpile,” one team member said, “and it immediately cheered the elephant up.”
Ellie’s happiness grew exponentially. Throughout the next few weeks, Ellie’s bond to Duma improved, and so did his mod. They were practically tied at the hip. The rescue team couldn’t have been happier with Ellie’s progress and new friend.
Proof That Friendship Cures
Now that Duma and Ellie were best friends, Ellie’s ailments seemed to evaporate. His fatigue vanished, and his medical conditions were almost entirely cured. Meanwhile, the two animals became inseparable. If someone didn’t know about Ellie’s hernia, they would have assumed that he was 100 percent healthy.
During the day, rescuers found Ellie and Duma playing in the reserve’s dirt mounds. When they grew tired, they napped together under nearby trees. Some team members remarked that when Ellie saw Duma approaching, it looked like he smiled. But the story doesn’t end here.
“Friendship” Became Too Light Of A Term
As for Duma, he took his relationship with Ellie seriously. After weeks of playing together, Duma acted less like a friend and more like a father. According to the Thula Thula employees, they had a hard time keeping Duma away from Ellie.
Wherever Ellie went, Duma followed. Not only did he teach Ellie how to play, but he also donned his police dog instincts to protect the elephant. Duma brought Ellie sticks and nuzzled the orphan whenever he needed it. While the rescuers rejoiced over Ellie’s recovery, they also knew that they had a tough decision to make.
Ellie And Duma’s Friendship Inspires The World
“Against all odds, this little elephant is still with us,” one rescuer said. The team couldn’t believe that one encounter transformed this baby elephant’s future. For the first time since his arrival, Ellie played like a happy, spirited elephant. As any animal-lover would, the rescuers captured videos of the pair interacting.
In no time at all, Duma and Ellie became internet stars. Viewers from across the world adored their relationship and called them a match made in heaven. The rescuers knew they were right; however, they still concerned transferring Ellie to a herd.
Should Ellie Return To The Wild?
When the rescue team first took in Ellie, they planned to give him to a herd as soon as he recovered. But the orphan’s new relationship with Duma put that into question. Would they further damage Ellie by ripping him away from Duma? Should they try again to assimilate him into a herd on the rescue?
In both options, Duma was out of the picture. As much as they wanted to, the Thula Thula team couldn’t keep Ellie on their rescue forever. But at the same time, they understood how profoundly Duma had affected him. Just like when Ellie first arrived, the rescuers faced a complicated, life-threatening dilemma.
Fortunately, Ellie Had Plenty Of Time
Although the rescuers didn’t know what to do, they had plenty of time to contemplate it. Ellie’s bond with Duma no longer placed him in emergency care. The baby elephant was only two years old, after all. He had 60-70 more years to live.
Although the team struggled with Ellie’s future, everything else seemed to work smoothly. They had successfully nursed the elephant back to health, and he was thriving with Duma. But the threat of tearing the pair apart constantly loomed over the rescuers’ heads.
Out Of Nowhere, Ellie’s Health Dunked
Since Ellie seemed to be doing well, the Thula Thula team assumed that the worst was behind them. With Duma, Ellie seemed invincible. But suddenly, the orphan elephant fell ill. The ailment completely blindsided the rescuers. They had spent months rehabilitating Ellie; what could have happened?
In January of 2016, Ellie’s health declined. The medical team jumped into action as their previous fears bubbled in them again. If they healed Ellie once, they could do so again. Right?
Was This A New Illness, Or An Old One?
“We need to get IV colloids brought thru for a collapsed elephant calf,” one caretaker tweeted out. When Ellie took ill again, Thula Thula was under-supplied. Since Ellie seemed incredibly sick, they had no other option than to plead for help.
But what happened to Ellie? When the elephant first entered the reserve, he suffered from a septicemia infection. After months in recovery, the medical team assumed that the infection had vanished. But it had suddenly appeared again and was spreading through his body fast. With little supplies and low spirits, the team could only do so much for Ellie.
Tragically, Ellie Lost The Battle
In just five days after the infection returned, Ellie passed away. The Thula Thula reserve was heartbroken. For over five months, they had fought tooth and nail to revive Ellie’s health. Just when Ellie seemed to have a happy ending, it all fell away.
Knowing that Ellie had international fans, the Thula Thula staff broke the sad news. They were bombarded with millions of condolences. Despite Ellie’s untimely end, his fans knew that his story would live on. After all, he was one brave elephant.
When Ellie Died, He Was Happy
The team at Thula Thula grappled with “deep sadness and so many tears.” Even so, they found comfort in knowing that Ellie was happy. When he first entered the reserve, Ellie was ailing and depressed. By the time he died, he was happy, healthy, and no longer alone.
After Ellie died, the team buried him. They posted to Twitter, “Ellie has been returned to the wild, buried in a special place at Thula where his spirit can roam with the herd.” In a way, Ellie returned to the wild peacefully. And his international recognition ensured his immortality.
Duma And Ellie’s Bond Will Never Be Forgotten
Ellie’s fans were the only ones who had to say goodbye to him. Ellie’s new adoptive father, Duma, lost his closest companion. Thula Thula never revealed how Duma reacted right after Ellie’s death. We assume it wasn’t positive.
Despite his loss, Duma didn’t give up his work. On a reserve full of ailing animals, Duma had plenty of companions to take care of. Ellie wouldn’t Duma’s last friend. Eventually, the German shepherd found another friend on the reserve and continued his paternal role.
Who Was Duma’s New Friend?
Duma was never a dog to cling to one species. He aimed to help any animal who needed it. Instead of wallowing in grief over Ellie, Duma cared for another sick animal in Ellie’s honor.
But who became Duma’s new buddy? Against all expectations, he bonded with a rhinoceros. Like Ellie, this animal was alone on the reserve and needed a friend. After his experience with the orphaned elephant, Duma understood that these animals need him more than anyone. He help the rhino restore his happiness and health.
How Duma Met His New Patient
It felt like deja vu when a baby black rhinoceros entered Thula Thula. The rhino was the only survivor of poachers. Alone and helpless, the rhino battled with severe emotional trauma. Like Ellie, he had no family.
The team decided to introduce the rhino, whom they named Nandi, to Duma. They hoped that Duma’s success with Ellie would happen again. Since baby rhinos can become aggressive, introducing the German shepherd was a risk.
Duma’s Peace Offering
Since black rhinos are an endangered species, preserving Nandi’s health became Thula Thula’s number one priority. Duma’s friendship could provide wonders to Nandi just like it did with Ellie. To introduce himself, Duma had to bring a peace offering. Because of his experience with exotic animals, the clever dog knew what to do.
Effervescently, Duma approached Nandi with a stuffed animal toy. No one expected Duma to trot over fearlessly with a toy. But after he did, a true miracle happened.
Friends Who Chase Each Other Stay Together
After Duma gave Nandi the toy, the two animals began playing together. Duma taught Nandi one of his favorite games, and after that, the pair became fast friends. They both playfully chased each other, and the rest is history.
In a short time, Duma and Nandi became inseparable. Not only did Nandi learn the rules to Duma’s games, but she also initiated the games. Like Ellie, Duma no longer felt alone. Even so, a new problem was about to crash into the reserve.
The Same Dilemma With Ellie Happened With Nandi
Bonding Duma and Nandi was the easy part. Unfortunately, the same problem with Ellie also arose with Nandi: what happens when the rhino grows up? An adult rhino could pose a serious threat to a small German shepherd. After videos of the dog-rhino pair went viral, fans began to ask the same question.
In response, Thula Thula rescuers assured everyone that they weren’t afraid. Because Duma could sense Nandi’s moods, they believe that Duma will act appropriately if Nandi ever becomes aggressive. Speaking of which, the team picked out a cute nickname for Duma after his friendship with the rhino.
The “Rhino Whisperer”
Nandi wasn’t Duma’s first rhino friend. The German shepherd had worked with plenty of black rhinos in the past. “Duma has been reared with rhinos and worked with a much larger black rhino,” reported Thula Thula. “He is exceptional at reading their behavior and seems to know when to get out of the way.”
Indeed, Duma’s talent with exotic animals is impressive. No matter the size, species, or aggressiveness, the German shepherd still manages to make friends. Duma’s heartwarming relationship with Nandi could very well last a lifetime!
Koko and Her Kittens
You may recognize Koko as the gorilla who knows sign language. Unsurprisingly, this intelligent gorilla yearned for companions. When she received a kitten, Koko became the ideal mother. Since Koko can’t produce her own babies, she showers her kitten with love. When she turned 44, Koko received an entire litter of kittens.
After Koko carefully interacted with the kittens, she picked on up and cuddled it. She placed another on her head. In sign language, she announced that the kittens were now her babies. The motherly gorilla still lives in Wood Hill, California, with her furry friends.
Another Dog-Elephant Duo
Bella and Bubbles are not your typical pair of animal friends. Bella is a black Labrador, and Bubbles is an adult African elephant. Both live in the Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina and bonded over their love of swimming. In fact, they even play catch together. Bubbles throws a ball with her trunk, and Bella jumps off the elephant to retrieve it.
Like Ellie, Bubbles was orphaned. She was rescued after her parents were killed by poachers in Africa. Bella was left by the contractor who constructed Bella’s pool. Now, they’re best of friends.
Bonding Over Their Long Necks
Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida, shelters an unlikely friendship. Wilma the ostrich and Bea the giraffe have become close friends. Since their enclosure spans 65 acres, the two could have gone their entire lives without seeing each other. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.
The giraffe and ostrich seem to always be together. They often frolick around and hang out by the water. Perhaps they have bonded over their long necks. Either way, they’re an adorable pairing that deserves some recognition.
Real Life Fox And The Hound
The forests of Norway conceal a real-life version of The Fox and the Hound. Tinni the German shepherd walks through the forest with Torgeir Berge, his owner and nature photographer. One day, the two came across Sniffer, a wild fox who took a liking to Tinni.
Nowadays, the pair spend their time playing in the woods. Berge has captured many of their antics on camera and even made a children’s book out of the photos. Because of his dog’s new friend, he became an activist against Norway’s fox fur trade.
Love Even Touches The Ground
Owls aren’t usually ones to make friends, especially with a landlocked species. However, Shrek the owl found a unique companion in Torque the dog. When Shrek was just six months old, Torque’s family adopted him. The rest is history.
Before Shrek’s adoption, he was removed from his mother because of her high stress. When mother owls grow terrified, they may eat their babies. Fortunately, Shrek made his way to Torque and settled into his new family.
A Yellow Lab And A Lucky Duckling
Dennis the duckling had little chance to live. After his mother was mauled by the fox, he wandered the wild alone. Eventually, Jeremy and his yellow Labrador Fred found Dennis while taking a walk. Upon realizing that Dennis was alone, they adopted the duckling. Soon afterward, Fred and Dennis spent all their time together.
Although they make an unlikely pair, the friendship has its advantages. Dennis gets to use Fred as a furry jungle gym. According to Jeremy, Fred was used to befriending wild animals, and he once made friends with a baby deer. Good boy!
They May Not Have Feathers, But They’re Mabel’s Chicks
When Mabel the hen suffered from a foot injury, she was lucky to have a compassionate owner. Instead of cooking her, the owner took her into his home and made her a pet. However, moving into the house came with a new adjustment. Once Mabel went inside, she had an entire litter of Rottweiler puppies waiting for her.
While the puppies’ mother was out, Mabel’s maternal instincts kicked in. The one-year-old chicken sheltered the puppies and kept them warm. Mabel seems happy, and the puppies love her, too. It’s a win-win relationship.
The Foster Mother Of Tiger Cubs
After a hurricane hit their enclose, two white tiger cubs never saw their mother again. Fortunately, a United States animal reserve caretaker adopted them. The caretaker also sheltered a chimpanzee named Anja, who immediately took a liking to the cubs.
Anja acts as the cubs’ partial mother. Because she has helped raise many orphaned animals, she knows to be gentle and careful around the cubs. This motherly chimp is just what the little tiger kittens need.
Tiny Animals, Big Hearts
In 2006, a photographer captured this picture near the northern Indian city of Lucknow. Indian summers are notorious for their intense monsoons that flood the streets. Under normal circumstances, this could drown any small animal–unless you can fetch a ride on a toad.
We don’t know what became of these two animals. But in the picture, they look like close pals. The mouse owes this toad his life, and this toad doesn’t seem to mind the hitchhiker. It’s an amicable relationship, to be sure.
Strangely, The Cat’s Bigger Than The Dog
In 2014, a lion cub named Bonedigger suffered from a metabolic disease. This ailment left Bonedigger disabled and alone. Then, a small dachshund named Milo took the cub under his wing. The two became so close that they remained attached even when Milo grow into an adult lion.
Now, the 500-pound lion still adores his 11-pound friend. At times, they are even joined by Milo’s other dog friends named Angel and Bullet. Bonedigger has no qualms about these pups; he often lounges around next to them like an old friend.
Juniper Loves Moose
Rescuer Jessika took a young fox named Juniper into her home and introduced him to her Australian Shepherd, Moose. Since then, the two canines have become inseparable. They eat together, sleep together, play together, and even groom each other.
Sometimes, Jessika will catch Juniper using Moose’s head as a pillow. She says that Moose doesn’t even mind. The dog sits patiently until the fox wakes up. To make everything cuter, Jessika describes that Juniper acts like a little girl who has a crush on Moose.
A Mysterious Fox-Cat Pair
Two fishermen on the shore of Lake Van, Turkey, made an unusual discovery. They spotted a white cat and fox who seemed very attached as they played with each other. Although no information about the pair has surfaced, the photos make the two look very close.
Most people believe that the fox is wild, and the cat escapes from its home to visit his friend. After all, the well-fed and groomed cat doesn’t look like a stray. It’s certainly an unusual but adorable friendship.