Life in South Africa can be exceptionally challenging for wild animals. They have to learn very quickly how to evade poachers and other predators, and they often rely on their herds and packs to teach them how to survive. But what happens to those who are rejected by their herds?
When one baby elephant grew desperately sick, his herd turned its back on him. He was forced to figure out how to survive in the cruel environment alone. That was when an unlikely hero befriended him in an effort to help him turn it all around…
Ellie the elephant was just two weeks old, but already it looked like time was running out for the poor calf. A rescue team found the poor baby alone and afraid at the Bonamanzi Game Reserve in Hluhluwe, South Africa.
Elephants are naturally social creatures, but Ellie had been rejected by his herd. To make matters worse, it looked like the young elephant was also desperately ill. The rescue team quickly took Ellie to Thula Thula, a game reserve in Zululand, to be treated.
Ellie’s future didn’t look good. Veterinarians at the reserve diagnosed him with an infected umbilical hernia, a condition that is almost always fatal. The area around his belly button was essentially an open wound where the infection ran rampant.
Being shunned at any age can have devastating effects on an elephant, but being shunned while still an infant could destroy Ellie mentally and emotionally, even if he was healthy. The rescue team suspected the herd had shunned him because of his illness.
The rescuers treated Ellie’s dangerous medical condition and then tried to reunite him with his family. But try as they might, the herd was done with the little guy. Instead, the team decided to rear him themselves in the Fundimvelo Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage.
Then, the team faced another dilemma: the calf rejected all of his milk and formula! Eventually they came up with a combination of boiled rice, vital minerals, and coconut oil that finally seemed to tempt his palate enough…
The special dish worked! Soon, Ellie was gobbling it down along with the milk he needed for nourishment. His health was finally back on track, but it would take a lot more to help him recover from the trauma of being abandoned.
Ellie seemed perpetually lonely and sad even though he had a team of humans caring for him. “He wasn’t showing much interest in doing anything. He was very lethargic, very disinterested,” said Karen Trendle, a rehabilitation and crisis response expert.
That’s when the rescue team decided to try something wild. On the game reserve lived a German Shepherd named Duma. The retired police dog was known for his love of all creatures, so the team decided to take a chance and see what would happen if Duma was introduced to Ellie…
No one was sure how either animal would react once they were introduced. However, just moments after they met, it was clear that a serious friendship was on the rise. Duma was delighted with his new friend, and Ellie seemed social and happy for the first time!
It was as if meeting the dog brought Ellie back to life! For the first time, the young calf was expressing interest in something, and it was clear from Duma’s reaction that the feeling was totally mutual.
Before Ellie met Duma, the rescue team was worried about the little elephant’s future. They planned to introduce him to another herd or to have him start a herd of his own with other orphans, but they weren’t sure Ellie would survive, let alone thrive. Now, they finally had hope… but would it last?
With every month that passed, Ellie grew happier and more confident thanks to his burgeoning friendship with Duma the dog. It seemed that Ellie was out of the woods and that a happy future could exist for this young elephant. But, sadly, fate had other plans…
Just when it seemed that Ellie was out of the woods, the worst thing imaginable happened: the tiny elephant relapsed, collapsing in the enclosure where he slept. The rescuers responded the only way they could—they treated him with IV fluids and waited.
Tragically, just five months after Ellie seemed to recover, he passed away from a septic infection that caused the failure of all of his organs. The team was absolutely bereft to lose their little friend who came so far…
“It is with deep sadness and so many tears that we bring the devastating news that Ellie passed away gently shortly before midnight on Tuesday evening,” the team announced on their Facebook page. The entire community joined them in their grief.
Ellie’s brief life contained several hardships between his abandonment and his illness, but he also experienced great love and friendship in his time at the reserve. Duma the dog transformed Ellie’s life—and that wasn’t something that would be forgotten!
Tough times were not over for those who worked and lived on the game reserve. Just months after Ellie died, poachers invaded the land and killed a baby rhino while maiming other rhinos for their horns.
The staff at the reserve had to make a very tough decision, and they ultimately decided to close the game reserve. They opened a new one elsewhere, but its location remained a secret so as to better protect the animals who lived there.
While this story does not have the happy ending that you might wish it had, it’s important to remember that Ellie’s remaining time on Earth was pretty special—and it was all thanks to his unlikely friendship with Duma the dog! You can see how they played here…
Ellie’s story may have a tragic ending, but thanks to the hard and fearless work of others at the game reserve, so many other animals will get a chance to live their lives in peace. And that’s a beautiful thing! Rest in peace, Ellie.
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