A baby elephant named Themba was ᴏʀᴘʜᴀɴᴇᴅ after his mother fᴇʟʟ ᴏff a cliff. He was closely monitored and the keepers were hoping that he would be adopted by another mother. But, after a week, he was still left alone.
Staffs from an animal hospital were fᴏʀᴄᴇd to take him in so he did not sᴛᴀʀᴠᴇ to ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ.
Here at the Shamwari Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, in the Eastern Cape, he was introduced to Albert.
The first meeting was not propitious. Themba ᴄʜᴀʀɢᴇᴅ ᴜᴘ to Albert and scared him.
Filmmaker naturalist Lyndal Davies, 41, said: ‘All hell ʙʀᴏᴋᴇ loose. Themba made a dash for the sheep and chased him around his watering hole.’
Albert hid in a cave for twelve hours, but the persistent of Themba finally won over Albert and he ᴇᴍᴇʀɢed. They became fast friends after that and have not been seen apart ever since.
Ms Davies, who is filming the pair for a documentary, said: ‘Themba was very curious and kept coming up and sticking his trunk through the poles, touching Albert on his woolly back and having a good sniff.
‘The next morning Albert was clearly bored and started venturing out into the main enclosure.’
She said: ‘Themba wouldn’t leave Albert’s side and the two were seen exploring their enclosure together, with Themba’s trunk resting on Albert’s back.
‘Ever since that moment Themba and Albert have been insepaʀᴀʙle.’
These amazing pictures show one of the pair’s daily eight-hour ᴡᴀɴᴅᴇʀɪɴɢs – essential for Themba’s development.
He and Albert can be seen dozing together on a termite mound they have just demolisʜᴇᴅ.
Dr Johan Joubert, the centre’s wildlife director, said the robust sheep could handle rough-and-tumble with Themba much better than the human staff.
He added: ‘Albert is like a brother to Themba and he is definitely an important member of Themba’s herd.
‘We were a ʙɪᴛ concerned to start with that we may end up with en elephant that thought it was a sheep, however, it’s turned out to the other way round.
‘Albert copies everything Themba does. In fact, they have almost the exact same ᴅɪᴇt. Albert is the first sheep I have ever seen eat a thorny acacia bush.
‘He has been stuᴅʏɪɴɢ Themba and worked out the best way to get his mouth around the long, sharp thorns to reach the juicy leaves.’
The team’s main objective is to get Themba back into the wild – so the pair are likely to be separated eventually.