Bubbles the elephant was rescued by a wildlife center when she was orphaned in the wild. Then, after 24 years without her family, she met another abandoned creature. No one expected that these two would become the best of friends – but before long, they were practically joined at the hip.
Bubbles is an African elephant who now resides at Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina. But it wasn’t always that way. She had been living in the wild as a baby when ivory traders killed her family in 1981.
At that time, the ivory trade was not illegal. And largely as a result of this, by 1989 the numbers of African elephants in the wild had fallen to 600,000 from 1.3 million in 1942. A ban was introduced but illegal poaching still takes place and an estimated 33,000 elephants are killed every year for their tusks.
Some South African countries continue to oppose the prohibition. And while Barack Obama instigated a ban that prevents the import of ivory from Zimbabwe to the United States, the Trump administration lifted it in November 2017. The trade of the valuable material found in tusks has created many “ivory orphans” such as Bubbles.
She was one of only a small number of her herd that were not slaughtered for their ivory. But as she was a baby, she couldn’t be left in the wild by herself. So the elephant was adopted in 1983 and eventually found herself in Myrtle Beach.
Mahamayavi Bhagavan “Doc” Antle established The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S) in South Carolina in 1983. He also created the Rare Species Fund, which financially supports wildlife conservation efforts. Through the safari preserve, Antle raises money for his foundation – and Bubbles is one of the star attractions.
It was here that the pachyderm developed a love of the water. But Bubbles needed more space to enjoy her swimming sessions as she grew from a 300-pound small elephant to a 9,000-pound full-size one. So in 2007 the safari organization decided to build her a pool that she could splash around in.
Bubbles had grown accustomed to the staff at the wildlife experience and was friendly with people. But she didn’t have any family around for 24 years. Then, the company employed a builder to construct the swimming pool for her – and the workman abandoned a puppy on the premises.
Employees at Myrtle Beach Safari decided to keep the black Labrador and named her Bella. They introduced the pup to the elephant both in and out of the water. And while Bubbles appeared curious at first, staff soon discovered that these two very different animals had something in common.
Like Bubbles, Bella has always felt at home in the water. The animals formed a bond over their shared passion and the interspecies friendship is incredible to see. Bella enjoys clambering on top of Bubbles and then leaping off her into the water below.
“Their pursuit of ‘aqua antics’ instilled a strong bond between these unlikely pals,” a video from Myrtle Beach Safari revealed. “The pool and eventually the river presented these two the opportunity to interact in a way that developed a deep and lasting friendship. Today, they are almost inseparable.”
Antle stated that Bubbles’ love of swimming has only grown because of Bella. “She enjoys the activity of just lounging around out here and taking it easy, and the dog gives her someone to do it with,” he told members of the press. “Bubbles helps her out a bit and hinders it a little bit. I think the whole game revolves around that for Bubbles.”
After so long without her herd, it seems Bella helps Bubbles to feel safe. And now, the elephant doesn’t want to be alone. “If Bella is on Bubbles’ back, Bubbles will stay in the water,” the founder and director explained. “It makes Bubbles feel like she’s got a friend, a security blanket, to have her out there.”
Antle also revealed that Bella knows her place beside the majestic beast. “I think Bubbles believes that she is an incredible superior creature that rules this kingdom that she lives in,” he said. “I think that Bella is just a happy-go-lucky dog and happy to be out here goofing around.”
Myrtle Beach Safari’s website describes Bubbles as “the most interactive African elephant in North America.” Guests at the preserve can feed her as part of their wildlife experience. And it’s clear that her friendship with Bella has only made Bubbles more popular.
A video featuring Bubbles and Bella from July 2013 has had more than four million views. The clip shows the bond that the two unlikely pals enjoy and includes scenes of them cuddling and playing together in and out of the water. And their obvious affection for each other struck a chord with commenters.
“Such a wonderful friendship. So glad they are there for each other. What an extraordinary privilege to witness these two,” one YouTube user shared. Others called the video “beautiful” and admitted that it had brought them to tears.
Some people pointed out how inspirational animals’ behavior can be. “I wish humans could all get along like this… we have much to learn,” one commenter wrote. Another agreed. “Unlike humans these two don’t let their differences divide them,” they wrote. “Instead they celebrate the things they share in common and put aside what makes them different.”
Interestingly, while Bubbles and Bella’s interspecies friendship may have gone viral, it’s not the first of its kind. Another dog named Bella previously developed such a close bond with an elephant called Tara that when the pup became ill, Tara waited outside the sanctuary office until they could be reunited. Bella passed away in 2011 and staff said Tara “became depressed” as she adjusted to life without her best friend.
Thankfully, while African elephants are still classified as a “vulnerable” species, their population is rising thanks to wildlife conservation efforts. And several decades after she was first rescued, Bubbles appears just as playful as ever before. She now has another dog friend and a video shared by Myrtle Beach Safari in August 2018 shows her splashing around with Bella and a second Labrador, Pharos.