Sadgorod Zoo had many feline residents. Yet among all the lions, tigers, and leopards, there was a house cat who quickly rose to fame. Muska was one of the most well-known felines in the entire zoo.
As a kitten, she managed to work her way into the hearts of not only the zookeepers but all the visitors as well. With her cute face and charm, she managed to win them all over. But when they found her with a bunch of tiny creatures, they had no idea what to do.
Zookeeper Alice was the one to discover baby Muska. She was on her way to work when she heard a meowing coming from a bush across the parking lot and looked inside.
It was a lone kitten so tiny she could fit in the palm of her hand. As a zookeeper, Alice was a lifelong animal lover. She put the tiny kitten under her jacket and brought her to safety. Little did Alice know exactly what she had brought inside.
The baby Muska was in a sorry state when she was brought to the zoo’s vet. Alice had found her alone and afraid, crying out for comfort. But Alice couldn’t find her mom anywhere in the area.
Somehow, Muska got lost or was left behind. She must have been there for a while before Alice found her. It was a stroke of luck that Alice parked close enough to the bush that day to hear her cry. But her luck was about to run out.
Alice worked in the Sadgorod Zoo for over eight years. She loved every minute of working there and looked forward to going to work every day. No day was the same.
She never knew what mischief the animals would get themselves into and especially loved when new and strange animals arrived in their zoo family. But she never predicted a new arrival would leave her running for the exit sign.
Alice brought Muska inside and took care of her. She called the zoo vet to have a look at her, and he continued to keep watch of Muska’s condition over the next few weeks. She was so small and weak, but she surprised everyone. It was clear that this little cat was a survivor.
“I knew the moment I laid eyes on Muska that there was something special about her,” said Alice with a smile. Alice was soon to find out that her hunch about Muska was more than correct.
As Muska recovered, she naturally became more curious about her surroundings. This worried the staff at the zoo as she could at any moment become dinner for something much bigger than her if she wandered into the wrong enclosure.
Alice and the keepers did their best to keep Muska indoors, but inevitably, curiosity got the better of little Muska, and she slipped out. It was the start of a worrying behavior.
Muska was living in a zoo that had big predator animals like bears, lions, tigers, and gorillas. All Alice and the other zoo keepers could do was hope she was smart enough to stay away from their enclosures.
Muska had a gentle temperament and approached anyone and everything with a trusting manner and friendly purr. Alice worried she’d try to befriend something that wasn’t meant for her. Her worry wasn’t all that misplaced.
“I love that cat with all my heart. When she went missing, I felt like a part of me died,” said Alice emotionally. “We spent two straight days looking everywhere for her, and we just couldn’t find her anywhere.”
Alice was brokenhearted when she first discovered that her beloved Muska was missing. She had even begun to print out missing signs when something extraordinary happened.
Just as she was about to print out her flyers, she opened the door and found Muska sitting patiently on the staircase, waiting to be let in.
Alice let out a high-pitched squeal at the sight of her and picked her up into her arms. After smothering her with kisses, she let her inside and gave her some food. She ate quickly. As far as Alive was aware, the old Muska was back, but something was wrong.
As cool as a cucumber, Muska arrived back at the door of the keeper’s office and waited at the door to be let in. To Alice, her baby had come home, but soon, she’d realized something had changed.
At first, Alice just thought the change of behavior was just from the tiredness of being missing for a few days. But as the days passed, she began to wonder if there was more to it. And there was.
Muska was always an energetic, fun, and playful cat, but something about her had changed since she went missing. She was lethargic and slow, choosing to lie around napping rather than play with the keepers.
Alice was suspicious. What exactly had Muska been up to when she went missing? Did one of the bigger animals out there give her a fright? Did something happen? Alice was about to find out.
When Muska went missing for a second time, Alice wasn’t worried. She had made her way home before, so she could do it again. She was a smart cat, and Alice trusted her to return this time.
However, when a storm began to brew, Alice began to worry about Muska, especially now that she appeared to be slower than usual. She decided to go out and look for her. There was no way she could have prepared for what she found.
Alice patrolled the zoo grounds, and then she heard it. A faint meowing came from a bush, just like the first time she found her. Alice walked over to the bush in quiet hopefulness that Muska would be waiting for her.
The meows grew louder, and she walked gently over. She peered into the bush, careful not to frighten her, and could not believe what she saw right in front of her eyes.
Alice marveled at the sight of her dear Muska with not only a litter of kittens but a clutch of baby hedgehogs! All of the youngsters were suckling at Muska, despite their spikes.
It must have been uncomfortable for Muska, but her mothering instincts had kicked in. Alice had never seen anything like this in all of her years working with animals. How was this possible?
Animals are long known to form curious bonds with each other, whether it’s two predators that would usually battle it out in the wild or a snake and hamster that form a curious friendship at mealtime.
Stories of animals’ incredible and unlikely friendships fill the web and almost always capture the imagination of everyone watching! That’s exactly what happened with Muska and her hedgehogs.
Alice was so touched by the incredible sight of Muska adopting these hedgehogs that she took a video and posted the motherly scene on social media.
The video became an online sensation and shot Muska into the media spotlight with her unusually kind, tolerant, and loving behavior. But one question kept appearing in everyone’s mind.
How was it that Muska came to adopt these random tiny litter of hedgehogs? Where was their mother, and how did they end up with Muska at all?
Alice found herself once again looking high and low for another runaway animal mom who had left her babies behind or forgotten about them. But no matter how hard Alice and the zoo staff looked, they couldn’t find the mother hedgehog anywhere.
Muska’s new babies had lost their mother and, while giving birth to her kittens, had come across Muska. Amazingly, she chose to adopt them and raise them as her own, despite their obvious difference from her kittens.
“I knew when I found her in that bush as a kitten she was special,” smiled Alice. “I had no idea just how special she would turn out to be!”. So what became of Muska and all her babies?
Like another story that surfaced online about another cat who mysteriously adopted baby hedgehogs, Muska fed the baby hedgehogs along with her kittens until they were old enough that she began to wean them off herself.
Alice found the kittens loving homes – two of them were adopted by the zookeepers, and others were given to other homes around the area. And the hedgehogs?
The hedgehogs were able to be released back into the wild in a forest area near the zoo where Muska continued to live.
Alice will often see one of Muska’s hedgehogs strolling across the grasslands of the zoo, only to be greeted by Muska. We could definitely learn a thing or two from the behaviors of animals! However, this hasn’t been the only case of adoption between different animal species.
One of these cases is the story of Albert the sheep and Themba the baby elephant. What might seem like a rather unlikely pair is actually a wholesome, loving bond between a surrogate parent and their child.
But what’s even more interesting is their backstory. The vets at the rehabilitation center where the pair lives are still amazed.
Albert and Themba live together in the Shamwari Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in the Eastern Cape, a province of South Africa. That has been their residence for a few years now.
However, that wasn’t where Themba the elephant spent the first stages of his life. He was only taken there from somewhere else after a tragic event took place.
Themba is an orphan: he lost his mother at the age of six months after she fell off a cliff. The baby elephant was spotted helplessly wandering around all by himself by some workers at the Sanbona wildlife reserve.
They took care of him for about a week. They hoped that the baby would be adopted by another female elephant.
But that didn’t happen. For some reason, none of the female elephants in the reserve wanted anything to do with Themba. They didn’t feed him; they didn’t even get close to him.
Let’s not forget Themba was just six months of age at that moment; if the situation continued like this, the baby elephant would have faced a grim, grim fate.
If no female elephant in the reserve suckled Themba, the baby elephant was at risk of starving to death, simple and plain.
So after a week, the vets at the reserve, along with some members of an animal hospital’s staff, realized that there was only one thing they could do to keep the outcast baby elephant safe and healthy.
They sent him to a different center; the chosen place was the Shamwari Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Eastern Cape. That’s when Themba first met Albert, the sheep.
However, based on their first encounter, no one could have ever predicted the relationship they would develop in the months to come. The first time they touched base, sparks didn’t fly at all.
The first time the two animals came across each other, “All hell broke loose,” according to filmmaker naturalist Lyndal Davis. “Themba made a dash for the sheep and chased him around his watering hole.”
Albert was understandably scared to see that 300-pound gray hulk chasing after him. So he did what he had to do to keep himself safe.
Albert the sheep ran into the safety of a shelter and stayed there for the next twelve hours. Nothing like that had ever happened to him before.
It was an absolutely frightening experience for him to see a huge, gray pile of muscle running after him. However, things were about to turn even more terrifying for the poor sheep.
“But Themba was very curious and kept coming up and sticking his trunk through the poles, touching Albert on his wooly back and sniffing,” Davis says, amusedly remembering the scene.
And that was just the beginning of their relationship. As time went by, things would take a turn that no one in the rehabilitation center expected.
The friendship between Themba and Albert started the morning after their intense first encounter. This is how Davis recalls it:
“The next morning, Albert started venturing out. And Themba wouldn’t leave Albert’s side, and the two were seen exploring the enclosure together, with Themba’s trunk resting on Albert’s back.” But that was just the beginning of a deep, tight bond between the two animals.
“Ever since then, they have been inseparable,” says Davis. This is what Dr. Johan Joubert, the Shamwari Wildlife Rehabilitation Center’s wildlife director, says about their unusual relationship:
“Albert is like a brother to Themba, and he is definitely an important member of Themba’s herd. We were a bit concerned, to start with, that we may end up with an elephant that thought it was a sheep. However, it turned out to be the other way around.”
Now, Albert the sheep is always keeping an eye on Themba and even mimics his habits, almost as if he was trying to be as close as possible to an elephant. “Albert copies everything Themba does,” says Dr. Joubert.
“In fact, they have almost the exact same diet. Albert is the first sheep I have ever seen eat a thorny acacia bush.”
“He has been studying Themba and worked out the best way to get his mouth around the long, sharp thorns to reach the juicy leaves,” Dr. Joubert says with a smile.
However, nothing good lasts forever; and unfortunately, that also applies to the endearing friendship, or better yet, brotherhood, between Themba the elephant and Albert the sheep.
From the moment he was rescued right after his mother’s decease, there was a plan for Themba, the baby elephant.
The plan was for him to be taken care of during his childhood and then released back into the wild, his natural habitat, after he reached adulthood. When the time comes, the two friends will have to go on their own ways.
These stories show that love, compassion, and care can overcome any difference; love always finds a way, even between different animal species.
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.