Animal friendships have always been a staple of the Internet. And while they sometimes guarantee a smile, few warrant more than a quick share on social media. That was until Duma and Ellie’s friendship.
This touching story of a German Shepherd befriending an orphaned baby elephant became an internet must-see. Not only because it tugged at the heart strings, but also because it highlighted how man’s best friend plays an undeniably important role in helping us protect, care for and rehabilitate vulnerable animals.
A friendship blossoms
Ellie was abandoned by his herd and arrived at Fundimvelo Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage in KZN at only 2 weeks old. And although the organisation specialises in caring for orphaned rhino calves, it could not turn its back on the little elephant. A decision that was led by Ellie’s ailing health due to a severe umbilical abscess that threatened to kill him in just a few days.
The team had to move quickly and after 3 days of round-the-clock nursing, Ellie started to miraculously improve. But because elephants are herd animals, the little calf’s listless emotional state was a serious concern and a threat to his already tenuous condition.
That’s when Duma stepped in.
The sniffer dog, that was raised and trained amongst rhino calves, took an instant liking to the little elephant and the feeling was mutual. “Ellie was immediately cheered up”, said Karen Trendler, a rehabilitation expert at Thula Thula. “He suddenly had a bit of interest in life again.”
Over the next couple of weeks these two unlikely friends became almost inseparable and developed an incredibly strong bond. “It was hard to keep Duma away from Ellie. He became incredibly protective over his new friend.”
There’s no denying that Ellie’s remarkable recovery and healthy development was a result of his close friendship with Duma. But it was a friendship that was short lived.
In January 2016, just a few days short of being 6 months old, Ellie’s health suffered a major setback when an abscess on his liver, caused by his first infection, burst. The result was another serious infection that the Thula Thula team fought to bring under control. But it proved too severe and, unfortunately, claimed Ellie’s life shortly before midnight on 26 January.
In the days leading up to Ellie’s death, Duma could sense something was wrong with his friend and became increasingly unsettled and distressed. When Ellie lost his battle with the infection, Duma did not allow anyone into or out of Ellie’s room, and spent the next couple of weeks searching for his little friend around the orphanage.
Working through the grief
Duma’s one-of-a-kind friendship with Ellie was exceptional and its loss affected him greatly. But lucky for him, his rhino friends were there to help. As part of his on-going training and role as playmate and protector at Thula Thula, Duma spends a lot of time with orphaned rhino calves. These relationships have helped him process Ellie’s death, and, it is hoped, will help him develop a feel for rhino behaviours. This will allow him to track rhino calves abandoned by poachers, and rhino going through the rehabilitation and release process.
Battling the poaching crisis
As the only dog trained in tracking rhino calves, Duma is a key part of the Thula Thula team’s heroic efforts to provide care and rehabilitation for orphaned, injured or compromised rhino calves. It’s not easy work and the highly-skilled full-timers and volunteers at the orphanage are no strangers to working through the night to keep their rhinos safe.
As the poaching crisis deepens, Duma and the team at Thula Thula are providing a much-need home, support and family for rhino calves that are unable to fend for themselves. With almost daily reports of rhino poaching, it’s a war that sometimes seems unending. But if Duma and Ellie’s friendship has proved one thing, it’s that anything is possible.
Help Duma & Thula Thula
To chat to Karen Trendler and her team at Fundimvelo Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage, follow them on Facebook here <link: https://www.facebook.com/rhinoorphanage/?fref=photo>. For more information on the heroic work they are doing, check out their website here <link: http://www.thulathula.com/links.aspx>.
Fundimvelo Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage runs on the generosity of donors. To help make a difference, you can lend a hand using the following banking details: