When the caretakers of the Vindum Blue Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage, located in the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve found an elephant calf deserted by its herd they tried to help him back without success. He was not lost, he had been cast out.
Realizing the danger for the baby elephant, and considering that at that stage it was only a matter of time before he died without his mother to help him, the caretakers decided to bring him to the Rhino orphanage until they could figure out how to get him accepted in another elephant herd.
Elephants never leave their own… Almost
Elephants never leave their own… Almost. Something was clearly wrong with this whole picture because elephants don’t usually leave their young. They are highly sociable creatures and it doesn’t follow that they would leave a young elephant such as this with no change of surviving on its own, deserted. Nevertheless as soon as the people from the orphanage had him seen by the vet they would find out the reason it happened.
There was a reason
There was a reason after all. Not that is was somehow pleasant news but at least it showed some light on why it happened. The elephant, that by now had been baptized Ellie, was very, very sick.
Dead Elephant walking
Ellie was basically a dead elephant walking. He had an umbilical hernia that was abscessed. In a nutshell, it was an fatal injury by now. It was open, infected and had a direct connection to the blood supply. When we said Ellie was a dead elephant walking we weren’t kidding. The chance of dying from this injury was 99%.
The people of the orphanage were somehow reticent to just let Ellie die. They decided to give it their best effort and they nursed 24/7. After several days just when they were about to give up on him, he began to show signs of improvement.
No way to feed him
On one hand they were obviously happy because Ellie was improving every day, but on the other one they got worried. Somehow Ellie’s improvement had a very undesirable side-effect. He became intolerant to milk. At that stage in his development -he was basically a baby- there wasn’t much else he could take as nourishment. The people of the orphanage asked colleagues and other institutions in all of Africa and received within days samples from formulas used for elephant calves in Kenya and Zimbabwe, but none worked. Ellie was beginning to look rather slim and it was crucial to find something to feed him with.
Experimenting to find a solution
The vets at the orphanage were left with only one option. They had to experiment with different formulations themselves until they could find something that the little elephant could digest. They eventually came up with a solution. They used cooked rice, very soft, whey protein powder, coconut oil, desiccated coconut and some minerals. Ellie began taking it with a little reticence at first but slowly he acquired a bit of a taste for it, which was good because he needed nourishment very badly.
They fed his body but they were yet to feed his spirit
As it was to be expected, Ellie’s health began showing massive signs of improvement and he looked stronger by the day. But there was something else. It must be something to be an outcast at such an early age and that was exactly what he was. Ellie started showing signs of depression and, like his physical recovery, it also was to be expected. He would stand by himself looking depressed and lonely. Nobody was able to cheer him up. Not humans nor animals. It was as if he wished he were dead.
Lifting up the spirits of an elephant
No other elephants resided at Vindum Blue Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage. They dealt mostly with Rhinos, but had other species as well, just no other elephants other than Ellie. Attempts were made to introduce Ellie to the Rhinos and to other animals but there was no use. Ellie would run away from them.
Desperate situations require desperate measures. They had one last animal they could try and it was a German Shepherd named Duma.
Duma was formerly with the South African police and ended up at the orphanage after years of hard work as a canine officer. Fun and games where his chief interest these days and curiously enough Ellie had not been able to work for a living yet, since he was just a baby, but fun and games where pretty much on top of his list as well. They were introduced right next to a small mound of dirt and within seconds Duma begun digging holes in it and Ellie started to play with the dirt using his trunk. After a while they became inseparable friends.
The rookie and the veteran
Duma was of course the veteran and Ellie wasn’t even close to a rookie. Somehow Duma sensed this and he was always taking care of Ellie, keeping him out of trouble. It was incredibly fun just to see them walk about in the reserve. Ellie would take these running sprees and Duma would run after him, quickly catch up and continue further checking everything was safe and then run back besides him, maybe carrying a stick that he would hand to Duma who would take it in his trunk and wield it around.
Patched up, so what now?
Since Ellie was doing so much better it was time to think about attempting to reintroduce him to another herd. They had mixed feelings about it at the orphanage because everyone had become attached to Ellie and they were all particularly thrilled to see him play with Duma after all he went through.
Duma begun barking one day and there was something about the sound that told everyone something was terribly wrong. When people went to him he led them to Ellie. He was lying on the ground and he had clearly recently collapsed. They took him to his bed indoors and after some blood samples their worst fears came through. Septicemia. Karen Trendler the head vet at Thula Thula made a desperate cry for help on social media. Her post read: “We need intravenous colloids for a collapsed elephant calf.”
Shortly afterwards, Ellie suffered massive organ failure and passed away peacefully. There was not a single man or woman who did not shed a tear. Sadness was overwhelming and Duma, with all the strength of his breed, sat not too far away expressionless. It is always hard to lose your loved ones but it is particularly hard when you know they were so young. Ellie was laid to rest in a grave at the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve. Duma, the German Shepherd, sometimes walks by. His days of playing with Ellie are over, but it is not an easy thing to forget the death of a friend.