Lenana’s story with us began 14 years ago, when we were called to rescue a young calf from the foothills of Mount Kenya. Her mother had been unwell for weeks, and tragically succumbed to her illness. Although Lenana was just a baby, she bravely stood by her side until the very end.
Despite her own losses, Lenana blossomed into a remarkably nurturing elephant, caring for other orphans first at the Nursery and later at our Ithumba Reintegration Unit. Once she transitioned to the wild, she became the chosen nanny for her older friends’ wild-born babies, which allowed her to fine-tune her own maternal skills. And so, just last week, we were delighted to learn that Lenana had embarked on a new chapter in her life, that of motherhood.
On the 24th of August, just as the sun tipped the horizon and our dependent orphans were filing back home for the night, a group of ex orphans made their way up the hill towards the Ithumba compound. Lenana was leading them, with an attentive entourage following behind, but as they drew closer a tiny form could be seen scurrying between Lenana's legs. The Keepers were taken aback to see that Lenana had obviously just given birth to her first born and was now proudly parading him off to them all.
We named the sprightly little chap Lapa, which means “moon” in the Samburu language. It felt most fitting, given the time of day of the big reveal! Lenana’s nannying duties over the past years are now being repaid tenfold. In fact, many of the wild-born babies that she helped raise — namely Sunyei’s daughter, Siku, and Kinna’s daughter, Kama — are jockeying for nannying privileges!
Lapa’s first week on earth was action-packed. Because it is the dry season, Lenana and her herd have chosen to remain in the vicinity of Ithumba, which means we have the privilege of enjoying his antics. Undeterred by his pint-sized stature, Lapa is brimming with personality and does not hesitate to show three-year-olds Siku and Kama who’s boss. Like the good nannies they are, they patiently take it all in their stride. True to form, it is Kinna who doles out the discipline. One day, when Lapa was overly boisterous around her daughter, she gave him a stern kick. Lenana didn’t mind the rebuke, knowing full well that it was deserved. Makena, who grew up at the Nursery with Lenana and moved to Ithumba with her in 2008, is also very focused on Lapa. She does not yet have a calf of her own, but her time is coming soon, so this is good practice.
It must be said that looking after Lapa is not for the faint-hearted. While he is very much a mummy’s boy, he has a mind of his own. One evening, back at the Ithumba stockades, he was hell bent on clambering into the water trough. When he finally achieved his goal and toppled in, his ever-present nannies flew into a panic. Despite the agitation around her, Lenana remained unfazed. Ithumba Head Keeper Benjamin stood by, ready to spring into action, as he has become something of an expert at lifeguarding our ex orphans’ babies: Some calves are drawn to the water trough, and while it is not deep enough to be life-threatening, the situation can be stressful. When Galana’s girl, Gawa, fell in, it was a wild matriarch who came to the rescue and extracted her. For a long time, Nasalot’s boy, Nusu, was fixated on diving headfirst into the water, and Benjamin had to haul him out multiple times. Knowing how harrowing these mishaps can be for new mothers, we were proud to see how Lenana retained her composure and calmly pulled Lapa from the water.
Motherhood is a milestone for any elephant, but especially for our orphans. After all, their very existence is miraculous: Fate took them from their own families years ago, and through years of hard work and the unfaltering dedication of their Keepers, they have been able to reclaim their place in the wild. Having a calf of their own is the culmination of their reintegration journey, an irrefutable sign that they are well and truly wild elephants once more. Seeing how Lenana has embraced motherhood with such effortless confidence, it is easy to forget that she was raised by the hands of humans, and not within the heart of an elephant herd.
However, Lapa will only know a fully wild life. He is blessed to have such a wonderful mother, and to be born into a world so full of love. For not only is he ensconced in the support of an extended elephant family, but also a human family. We rescued his mother all those years ago, and we remain committed to both of their futures, working behind the scenes to ensure they remain safe and protected. Lapa brings our known tally of wild babies, born to orphans we rescued and raised, to 37. Each one is a miracle, and a reminder of the multi-generational effect of our Orphans’ Project.