The Weekly Elephant or News & Views on Very Important Elephants

The Story of Duma and Ellie : How a German Shepherd Canine Gave an Ailing African Baby Elephant the Will to Survive

“Against the odds this little elephant is still with us.” Karen Trendler recently spoke on behalf of The Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage in Zululand, South Africa near the area where a deathly ill baby elephant was found. The “rehabilitation and crisis response expert” provided the stark details after discovering the sickly bull calf.

He was named Ubuntu (affectionately called Ellie). But it was not an incidence of poaching that left this tiny calf orphaned and all alone. It was speculated that because of a massive “umbilical hernia and abscess” his elephant herd had abandoned him. And baby elephants with an infection akin to Ellie’s just don’t ever survive (“99% of the cases of an umbilical abscess of that nature are fatal.”)

After birth when an elephant calf’s “entire umbilical or belly button area” becomes herniated and abscessed the area opens up resulting in a severe infection. And since “that is a direct connection into the blood supply” it is a miracle that little Ellie, at just two weeks of age , even had any strength left to stand, let alone survive.

(If not for “around the clock” nursing, providing constant elephant care, Karen Trendler and her team would not have been able to save little Ellie’s life. But he continued to hold on. Still, “against the odds”. He would later get an added boost of spirit from a German Shepard dog named Duma.)

Due to the infection Ellie’s system kept rejecting a number of milk formulas that were acquired for him; one from Zimbabwe and even the “powder” from The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage in Kenya. Finally a “very, very well cooked gooey rice to which was added protein ,minerals, coconut oil and desiccated coconut” was found to be the “special milk formula” that seemed to “stabilize” the failing calf.


Baby Elephant Ubuntu (affectionately called Ellie) With Duma the German Shepherd
photo credits: The Daily Mail, Earth Touch, Karen Trendler


But sometimes nursing a baby elephant back to health is not all about formulas and medicines. While Ellie’s overall health was (and still is ) a cause for concern (he was still quite weak and ill) Karen noticed that it was his little spirits that were strikingly low.

(As elephants are very social animals the loss of his elephant family was obviously devastating to him, especially with the baby elephant being so sickly. And despite not having that emotional component of life among his own species, this baby elephant still wanted to survive. He responded to, or was trying to respond to, the wonderful care he was receiving from Karen and The Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage family.)

That is until Duma was “introduced” and had the innate ability to give the calf a reason to have “an interest in life” again.  “Lethargic and disinterested” is how Duma the canine found the tiny bull calf and as a “former service and sniffer dog” the German Shepherd knew his work was cut out for him. But Duma was up to the challenge and upon their first encounter at the sand pile Ellie, frail as he was, (wrapped snugly in a blanket or not!) could not stop playing.

As the carers at The Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage observed, Duma “immediately cheered the elephant up” and had a “massive impact” on the spirits of Ellie. The baby elephant frolicked for endless hours with the German Shepherd; sand from the huge hill flying in their midst.


Ellie and Duma playing in their sand pile at The Thula Thula Rhino Sanctuary in South Africa
photo credits: The Daily Mail, Earth Touch, Karen Trendler


Even as Duma has become quite the guardian of his new elephant friend someday he will have to send Ellie off to join other elephants, perhaps in a similar predicament. But as his name implies (Ubuntu), there will always be that “interconnectedness” between the canine and the baby elephant, and neither time nor distance can ever tear them apart.

**Important note about little Ubuntu / Ellie’s health. Please see Karen Trendler Facebook post on 26 Jan “The Roller Coaster Ride Continues” about Ellie’s more recent ill health and photos of the very sick and convalescing elephant, the “little fighter”. This baby elephant (along with his rescuers / carers) desperately needs our thoughts and prayers.


Ellie and Duma playing in their sand pile at The Thula Thula Rhino Sanctuary in South Africa            photo credits: The Daily Mail, Earth Touch, Karen Trendler


Thank you Karen Trendler, staff, and volunteers at The Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage for your selfless acts of kindness and for caring enough to nurse this baby elephant back to health. As we have read the updates we can only hope for the best for little Ellie. We will all keep fighting along with this sweet elephant.


photo credits: The Daily Mail,  Earth Touch, and Karen Trendler

See article by Joseph Curtis for the Daily Mail Online “Touching Video Captures the Adorable Friendship Between Baby Elephant Abandoned by Its Family and Canine Companion Who’s Helped Him Get Back on His Feet “

See Karen Trendler Twitter

See YouTube video by Earth Touch of Ellie (and footage of Ellie and Duma playing in their sand pile)





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