Back in February 2013, a two-week old hippo was found abandoned in Zambia on the banks of the Zambezi River. It took the work of three wildlife charities (Conservation Lower Zambezithe Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust & The Born Free Foundation) to nurse the tiny orphan back to health, but twelve months, a new name (Douglas) and a few doggie pals later, he's now making his move back into the wild!

Douglas and his canine playmates. Image: Born Free Foundation

The supersized baby caused quite a stir when he appeared on the British television show 'Paul O’Grady’s Animal Orphans', where he was seen 'being nursed' by terriers at Chipembele. But like most of the stories of unusual animal friendships we cover, this was more a case of amicable interspecies interaction than 'doggie doctors'.

"I think when the other [media] outlets say [the dogs] helped raise Douglas, they were definitely using their imaginations slightly – I'm not sure where that came from,” says Born Free team member Victoria Lockwood. 

According to Chipembele's founder Steve Tolan, the Jack Russells (named Molly and Coco) have been fascinated by Douglas since his arrival. "[The dogs] used to lick him all the time ... particularly after a milk feed, when there was milk to be licked," he clarifies. "Douglas would even open his mouth and Molly would put her head right in to get the last drop. They still lick Doug now, but generally his eyes and nose."

The dogs may not have nursed Douglas back to health, but it took human experts a great deal of effort (and a lot of milk) to get the little hippo back into 'ready for the wild shape'. “We constructed a pool and brought in dedicated caregivers to look after Douglas who initially was bottle fed," Tolan says. Though his team has over 16 years of experience rearing orphaned animals and returning them to the wild, this was the first time they’d taken on a hippo.

"[He] looked to his human caregivers for reassurance, companionship and even swimming lessons ... we urgently needed financial support,” he says. Douglas’s story prompted over $16,000 of donations from fans, making his expensive recovery a joyful reality.

"Douglas has now been fending for himself since he was weaned in January and is surviving and thriving," says Tolan. "He has made his first few attempts to join the wild pod in the Luangwa River. It will probably be a long, slow process until he is fully accepted into the pod but he is on his way."

We're certainly rooting for Team Douglas and will be keeping tabs on this hippo heart-warmer as gets used to his home in the wild. 

Douglas was airlifted to his home at Chipembele Image: Born Free Foundation
Students look on as Douglas is fed by staff Image: Born Free Foundation
Images: Born Free Foundation
Image: Born Free Foundation
douglas-dog-comp 2-2014-9-2.jpg
Images: Born Free Foundation
Staff keep Douglas comfortable during his first swims. Image: Born Free Foundation
Back in the wild. Image: Born Free Foundation

For more photos of Douglas and his journey, check out his Facebook page!