The truck driver couldn't believe his eyes: Leaning against the front tire of his rig was a hairless aardvark no more than 2 months old.
We're Crushing On This Baby Aardvark Who Was Rescued And Nursed Back To Health
Unsure what to do, he scoured the nearby area for its mother. When that proved fruitless, he returned to company headquarters with the infant aardvark in tow.
Enter Dr. Erika de Jager, a local veterinarian smitten with the cub's tiny pink body and elongated snout. She immediately volunteered to care for the orphaned animal at ZURI Orphanage, a small wildlife refuge she operates from her home near Tsumeb, Namibia.
Telling The Dodo that it was "love at first sight", de Jager renamed him E.T. in an homage to the titular movie character, who, it should be noted, shares a similar fish out of water backstory.
While she had treated wildlife, including owls, lizards, and snakes, for assorted injuries and ailments previously, de Jager had no experience with aardvarks. What followed was a process of trial and error.
In an interview with The Dodo, she explains:
"We had to experiment a lot with different teats ... We also fed him, in the beginning, a local brand of kitten milk, but he did not do well. It was only after we received some advice from a lecturer at Onderstepoort that we had a better idea of what to feed. We then started to feed him the imported milk and he immediately started to pick up weight."
As E.T.'s diet improved, so too did his condition.
He also grew more comfortable around the other animals at the refuge, including de Jager's cats and dogs, who quickly welcomed E.T. into their pack.
According to The Dodo, "they [the dogs] are used to baby animals like goats and warthogs, so it was nothing unusual for them. They just played with him like he was one of them."
5 months after arriving at ZURI, E.T. was released back into the woods that surround the orphanage. While the moment was tinged with a measure of sadness, de Jager's happy to report that her new friend returns to the ranch from time to time.
Even better: The lessons learned from E.T.'s rehabilitation have been applied to a second rescued aardvark, Gertie.
Like E.T., she has also bonded with her new roommates, as this beautiful picture attests.
Embedded below: video of E.T. frolicking with de Jager and her pups.