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Orphaned Baby Elephant Forges Unlikely Friendship That Will Melt Your Heart

Sarrah M





This is the story of a baby elephant at the Hluhluwe–Umfolozi Game Reserve who was taken to the Vindum Blue Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage, that as the name suggests, is dedicated to helping rhinos who are victims of poaching. But this elephant was not a victim of poaching; he was cast away by his herd. Ubuntu the baby elephant was known affectionately as Ellie. There were many attempts to reunite Ellie with his herd, but every single one of them failed.

Elephants are highly social creatures

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Elephants are highly social creatures and their chances of survival if they’re cast out from their herd are slim, to say the least. But Ellie’s case was different. He was only a calf and without the help of the herd and particularly his mother, Ellie’s chances were almost nonexistent. Without the ability to feed himself, because he was still weaning and without the protection of her herd Ellie would die in a matter of days. The caretakers at the Vindum Blue Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage were faced basically with two options: Either leave him to his fate, or take him in.

Choosing life

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Determined to help the little elephant, they took and nursed him. It wouldn’t be long before they were faced with a terrible difficulty: The calf was seriously ill.


He was left to die by his kin

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When they got Ellie to the orphanage they found that he had a huge umbilical hernia with an abscess. This meant that the entire umbilical area or belly button was open and was very infected. The umbilical area has a direct connection to the blood supply. In about 99% cases, an umbilical abscess of that nature is fatal. It took 3 weeks of incredibly intensive 24hr nursing but against all odds, Ellie survived.

A side effect of treatment

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Unfortunately, Eddie’s problems were far from over. He developed an intolerance for milk. Unable to gain sustenance at this early stage of his development by ingesting solid food, without milk Ellie would perish by inanition. He would basically starve to death if he didn’t manage to tolerate milk.

They made many attempts to feed Ellie but he simply didn’t tolerate anything they gave him. They asked for help to other orphanages and reserves around Africa. Soon they tried another formula, the one used in Zimbabwe but the elephant didn’t tolerate it either. The formula from Kenya bore the same result. They tried everything, but Ellie was totally intolerant.

Coming up with a new baby elephant formula

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After endless trials they begun to despair. They were left with one final resort. The only solution would be to concote a formula for Ellie. Not completely sure why Ellie did not tolerate the baby elephant formula he was given was not very helpful but they decided to come up with a formula that couldn’t possibly be rejected.

They concocted Ellie’s new formula using rice -very well-cooked and gouei- to which they added protein, minerals, dessicated coconut and coconut oil.

The ingredients were unusual but the formula contained everything Ellie could possibly need. Ellie begun slowly accepting this new milk and eventually he begun drinking it with gusto!


They fed his body but they were yet to feed his spirit

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Ellie seemed to be doing rather well physically but there was no one that could deny that he looked rather miserable. How would you feel If one day you were deserted by the human race? If you can imagine something so unfeasible you could begin to understand how he felt. Ellie was not just deserted by his family when the herd left him to die -and you can hardly blame them because it’s not as if they had much choice. Ellie, had no other elephants with whom to socialize, play or basically spend some time with. He was, understandably, very depressed and it was really sad to witness. It was as if he didn’t want to live.

Lifting up the spirits of an elephant

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The “reserve” where Ellie had found his new residence, didn’t have any other elephants. There were many other species however, ranging from rhinos and crocodiles to hyenas. Ellie showed no interest in getting close to any of them so the experts at the orphanage decided to try something new. They introduced his to a dog named Duma who was German Shepherd, retired from the South African police.

Give me a reason to live…

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Duma was a retired police dog and like most police dogs, his life had been more about working and less about playing. Ellie was a baby elephant and his life had been about being sick on the brink of death until now… It might have been that they both had a void that needed to be filled, or maybe it was just that they liked the same games but the fact of the matter is that they hit it off immediately. All it took was a mound of sand. They brought close. to it. After sniffing each other as best they could they begun playing on the mound. Eddie with the sand using his trunk and Duma begun digging holes with his front paws. From that moment they became pals despite their obvious differences.

The rookie and the veteran

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Duma, having lived a hard life of work with the Johannesburg police, knew right from the start that even though this creature with whom he had become acquainted with, was many times his size, it was also very young and innocent and it was not very difficult for his paternal instincts to kick in, the same way an old cop becomes protective of a rookie. Ellie would walk around and Duma would follow him running to and fro. Sometimes Duma would pick up some sticks and hand them to Ellie who would grab them with his trunk. Duma and Ellie became almost inseparable.

Ellie was now in high spirits and it showed physically as well. He began gaining weight and after a few months it was hard to tell all he had been through just by looking at him.

Patched up, so what now?

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When Ellie was rescued, the idea was to get him “back on her feet” so he could be reintroduced to another herd of elephants. When the extent of his injuries became clear however, no further thought was given to reintroduce him to the wilderness. All efforts were spent into making her healthy again.

Ellie’s health however, improved dramatically. His bond with his canine friend Duma remained strong and strengthened every day. Everyone at the orphanage was happy and the sight of Duma and Ellie taking a walk or playing with dirt raised everyone’s spirits.

Ellie collapses

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Five months after Ellie was brought to the orphanage, he was found collapsed. Duma was right next to him with a look of concern on his eyes. Not without difficulty Ellie was taken indoors to his bed where the vets drew blood and and realized he had septicemia. What they had been dreading from the start, took them by surprise when they thought it vanquished. Karen Trendler, the lead vet at the orphanage, made a desperate appeal over social media asking for intravenous colloids for “a collapsed elephant calf” and sadness overtook everyone around.

Ellie suffered massive organ failure, that caused her untimely death. Duma was sad, the way German shepherds get sad, becoming a little less energetic and playful than usual. Everyone at the orphanage was devastated and condolences were received from all around the world. It was always a “long shot” but they really thought they pulled it off. Emmy was buried deep in the animal reserve where her spirit roams free from disease and worry. Nothing can hurt him now.