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Lucky the elephant's paintings raise money for her own medical treatment

Lucky the elephant is an artist unlike any other.
/ Source: TODAY

Lucky the elephant is an artist unlike any other, using her talents to not only raise awareness for an important cause, but to also raise money to help herself fight a rare disease.

Fifteen-year-old Lucky was raised at the Cambodian rescue center after she was abandoned at only 6 months old. Her mother, rescuers said, was likely killed by poachers.

Nick Marx, wildlife rescue director at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center in Cambodia, said that she has become a symbol of the conservation movement at the center.

"Everybody loves Lucky," Marx told NBC's Ian Williams for TODAY. "Everybody was asking about her every day."

But earlier this year, she contracted a rare — and usually fatal — elephant virus. For weeks, Marx and his team battled to keep her alive, fearing the worst.

"The really bad times, I was thinking she's going to die," Marx said.

The $40,000 for her treatment quickly drained the resources of the center as well as Marx's savings. But then he remembered that Lucky had another skill — as an artist.

And as money ran low, the New York-based Wildlife Alliance, which supports the Cambodia center, raised money for Lucky's care by auctioning two of her paintings, which the artist composed before she became sick.

The sales raised enough money to help facilitate Lucky's treatment, and the elephant is now seeing the first signs of recovery. She is flapping her ears, playing in the dirt, eating again — and painting for the first time since she became sick.

"Well, if there's a sign that Lucky really is on the mend, then this is it," Marx said.

While Lucky is still on steroids, and Marx cautions that she has seen some ups and downs before in her treatment, he said there is reason for hope.

"Now there's a smile on everyone's face, and on Lucky's face, too," he said.