As beautiful as the natural world is, it can also be deadly. Animals are in a constant struggle to survive, which is difficult enough when they’re banding together. When they’re left alone, on the other hand, they barely stand a chance.
This baby animal was fending for herself out in the wilderness, without a friend and without a prayer. But then a stranger from across the savanna came forward, seeking to turn the lonely beast’s life around…
In 2016, Nandi the rhinoceros came into the world. She couldn’t have asked for a better life. She tore across the South African savanna with her mother, who protected her as she grew bigger and stronger. But one surprise threw her childhood off the rails.
One day, the two rhinoceroses noticed a vehicle approaching them from the distance. Neither had made contact with humans before, so they didn’t even think to run. That put them in more danger than they ever realized.
The car was full of bloodthirsty poachers, greedily searching for rhino horns to sell on the black market. The unsuspecting targets, Nandi and her mom, turned to face the hunters just as they opened fire.
Nandi fled just in time, though her mother didn’t survive. Just a few months old, the rhino had to survive in the middle of the harsh South African summer. She struggled to find food in the arid fields and could only hope she didn’t run into any predators.
Twitter / South Africa Tourism
After all, if the young rhinoceros stumbled into a pack of hyenas or lions, she wouldn’t have a prayer in defending herself — even if she returned to full strength. Nandi needed to find shelter or protection, and fast.
Becoming weaker and weaker by the day, it seemed like just a matter of time before another animal — or the elements — picked her off. A couple of weeks later, a strange creature did indeed spot Nandi.
This time, fortunately, the animals watching Nandi weren’t predators. They were humans! And unlike the rhino’s last encounter, these people were not armed with weapons, but with medical supplies and food.
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They were a group of wildlife conservationists, led by a young woman named Jamie Traynor. Known as “The Rhinoceros Whisperer,” she immediately recognized that Nandi was malnourished. Jamie couldn’t just leave her there in the wilderness.
YouTube / StoryTrender
She and her team whisked Nandi back to their sanctuary, a place they called The Rhino Orphanage. While Nandi had a healthy appetite, food alone wasn’t restoring her vigor. She clearly required medical intervention.
The Orphanage’s doctor determined that Nandi had, in desperation, eaten sand out on the savanna. After studying the damage to her intestine, he took her into surgery to repair her digestive system.
Following her procedure, the rhinoceros looked frailer than ever. She slowly convalesced, wrapped up in bandages and medical tubing, but Jamie rarely left her side those few weeks.
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As the scars healed, Nandi began drinking more and more milk. That was a very good sign, since she was developing at the proper rate. Jamie could hardly wait to show Nandi the rest of the preserve.
Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation
Before long, the young conservationist had Nandi back up and running. The rhino was bounding about the African terrain with an energy she hadn’t had since her mother was alive.
YouTube / Paul Oxton
Nandi really seemed to bond with Jamie, too. She saw the human as a parental figure, even as Nandi surpassed the size of any human. But before long, the rhino formed an even more unlikely relationship.
Instagram / Jamie Traynor
While taking a drink of water one morning, Nandi noticed an unfamiliar reflection appear next to her. It was a ginger cat, totally unafraid of the hulking animal next to him! Jamie watched the two from a distance, so glad that Nandi finally met Mewie.
Mewie was a tomcat that Jamie and her colleagues had also rescued. The feline showed a curious penchant for befriending animals of all species — even the horse and parrot who also lived at The Rhino Orphanage.
Still, Mewie decided that Nandi would be her best friend of all. The mismatched pair went on walks every day — at least until the cat tuckered out — followed by long naps in the shade.
The Rhino Orphanage / Jaime Traynor
The Rhino Orphanage proved to be the perfect spot for Nandi to blossom into adulthood. By the spring of 2018, when Jamie and her team saw she was healthy and full-grown, they decided it was time for a change.
YouTube / Helping Rhinos
Nandi had to learn to survive in the wild before she lost her ability to adapt. With a tear in her eye, Jamie rolled back a section of the fence and set Nandi and another rhino named Storm back into the Savanna.
YouTube / Helping Rhinos
Though it was a difficult choice, Jamie could still keep tabs on Nandi’s progress thanks to an ankle tracker. Every time she came across the rhino thriving on her own, she knew all her hard work was worthwhile.
Thanks to heroes like Jamie, animals across the planet are coming back from the brink of death. Ellie the elephant, for instance, was just two weeks old, when a rescue team found her 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…