When animals arrive at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage in Kenya, they often have no one left in the world. It’s little wonder, then, that many of them find surrogate parents to learn from along the way – even if they aren’t from the same species.
And one of those pachyderms taken in by the trust was a baby male elephant who had fell down a well in Namunyak, Kenya, in March 2016. As distressing as it may have been for his mother, though, the herd moved on without him.
When cattlemen eventually found the little bull elephant, however, they contacted the Namunyak Conservancy, which sent scouts to the rescue. Meanwhile, rangers tried to locate the rest of his herd, but their efforts were fruitless. So instead of reuniting with his family, the bull soon found himself on a drive to the airport for a big new adventure.
Waiting for him was a plane from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s elephant nursery in Nairobi. It was expected to be a stressful journey to the Kenyan capital for the little elephant, so he was given intravenous life support along the way. Once at his new home, then, he was immediately treated to a cool mud bath and nourishing fluids.
At the nursery, the staff were impressed that the little elephant had already survived what had been record-setting high temperatures in Kenya. So the team decided to name him “Jotto,” a Swahili word that describes the searing March heat.
Giving an update on Jotto’s condition six months later, the trust reported that its “little fighter” has “overcome dehydration and teething to become a very playful little bull, much loved by his keepers and orphan-herd.”
Now thriving under the elephant orphanage’s care, Jotto can grow up safety before being re-released into the wild. And though the sanctuary is teaming with little elephants just like him, Jotto went on to make the unlikeliest of friends.
Back in October 2014 a team from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust had travelled to Northern Kenya for what was supposed to be a routine pick-up of another orphaned elephant. But when they got there, they found the calf with two ostrich chicks and decided to give the birds a home, too.
The feathery pair, Pea and her brother Pod, have gone on to form a unique bond with their elephant friends. “[They] are now an intrinsic part of our Nursery Unit,” the trust wrote about Pea and Pod in a later blog post.
“Although taller than their elephant peers… [these] feathered friends remain very protective of the herd,” the post continued. “It is a most unlikely combination which has formed an enchanting inseparable friendship.”
The trust also revealed that the twosome acted like surrogate parents to many of the orphaned elephants. “For the orphans in our care, adoptive families come in all shapes and sizes,” it elaborated in a Facebook post.
“While their species may be worlds apart, ostriches Pea and Pod enjoy playing ‘mother hen’ to the baby elephants, lovingly letting the little ones suckle on their thighs and protectively enveloping them with their wings,” the post continued.
In 2015, meanwhile, another non-elephant species joined the orphanage – this one taller even than Pea and Pod. After a newborn giraffe became separated from his mother, which may have even been shot, rangers made sure the baby would be in good hands with the trust and named him Kiko.
But as healthy babies grow up, soon they start to get restless, and the call of the wild is an instinct that some can’t ignore. Such was the case for Pod in early 2016, and he decided to fly the coop.
But despite now being the only one of her species left at the orphanage, Pea shows no sign of following her brother anytime soon. She has established special bonds with many of the elephants at the nursery, but none more so than Jotto.
What’s more, in an incredible photograph posted to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Facebook page in October 2016, the pair can be seen enjoying an adorable, inter-species cuddle. Pea casually grooms her feathers as Jotto uses her as a makeshift pillow.
“It is safe to say orphaned ostrich Pea most definitely believes she is part of the elephant herd,” reads the extraordinary photo’s caption. “Little Jotto is more than happy to enjoy a cuddle with his feathered friend.”
“Beautifully tender moments at the Nairobi Nursery,” it continued. “Where these two orphans and many, many others, are being given the opportunity to heal and, when they are ready, to return to the wild.”
And the amazing image certainly captured the imagination of the trust’s Facebook followers. “This is such a precious, adorable and endearing sight,” commented one. Another pondered, “Why can’t humans be like this?”
Perhaps we all could learn something from Jotto and Pea, then. Indeed, their amazing relationship just goes to show that often the most unlikely friendships are the most beautiful ones.