Life didn’t start out so well for baby elephant Ellie. Weak and sickly, and with a severe milk allergy, Ellie was rejected by his herd, which probably instinctively knew he wouldn’t survive in the wild.
Ellie was rescued and brought to the Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage in Zululand, South Africa, but his struggles were far from over. It was found that he had an advanced infection from an umbilical hernia, which could easily reach the bloodstream and result in death. Ellie required round-the-clock nursing for a long time, until the infection cleared up.
It also took a long time to overcome Ellie’s milk intolerance. Rehabilitation expert Karen Trendler said that none of the usual milk substitutes worked. Finally, a milk product was developed from very well-cooked rice and coconut oil, plus added protein and nutrients, that Ellie was able to take.
After all these hard knocks, it’s not surprising that Ellie was depressed and disinterested in life. Elephants are social creatures and need the support of the herd; they’re very difficult to raise otherwise. The staff at the orphanage tried several times to reunite Ellie with his family, but was unsuccessful every time. So Ellie would stand indifferently in a corner, not caring at all what was going on around him.
That is, until one day Ellie was introduced to Duma, a German shepherd who was a former service dog. They took to each other instantly, and were inseparable. Ellie and Duma’s favorite place to play was the sand pile, where they would frolic happily and nuzzle each other with affection. Ellie had a friend at last, and began to enjoy life.
Karen Trendler said that it was rather interesting, because dogs and elephants have entirely different behaviors. But she added, “We introduced Duma and the elephant at the sand pile and it immediately cheered the elephant up.” The dog also seems very attached to Ellie; Trendler said they have a hard time keeping Duma away from the elephant.
Ellie will ultimately have to be integrated into a herd, either an existing one or one formed from other orphaned elephants. But for now, he’s just happy spending time with his best bud, Duma.