Our extended elephant family just got a bit bigger: Lualeni gave birth to her second baby girl, Lexi!
Motherhood is a momentous chapter for any elephant, but especially for an orphan who has overcome so much heartbreak. Lualeni’s story nearly ended 17 years ago, just as her life was beginning. In November 2004, staff at a lodge in Taita Hills Sanctuary spotted a most unusual sight: A tiny elephant, no more than a few months old, was sleeping under the shade of a tree. They observed her for a day, witnessing her futile attempts to join passing herds. It was clear that this calf was utterly alone in the world. Given the time and location, we suspect she lost her mother to poachers.
To this day, no orphan has grieved so profoundly, or for so long, as Lualeni. For months after her rescue, she remained psychologically crippled. She distanced herself from the rest of the orphans, showing no glimmers of happiness or interest in her new family. Lualeni’s Keepers and fellow orphans tried to show her that life was worth living. At last, a full four months after she came into our care, we had a breakthrough. It was a morning like any other, with one crucial difference: Lualeni woke up and chose life. She emerged from her stable with a bounce in her step, playing with the others and showing a joie de vivre that we had never seen before.
We often find that orphans who have overcome the greatest traumas make for the most nurturing elephants. That was certainly the case with Lualeni. She always took fellow orphans under her wing, first at the Nursery and later at our Ithumba Reintegration Unit. In fact, she was so enthusiastic about nurturing that she made rather a nuisance of herself, once she transitioned to a wild life: The Keepers inwardly groaned whenever Lualeni visited, because she was fixated on kidnapping the dependent orphans! While the Keepers always thwarted her attempts, she clearly wanted to assemble her own little herd.
Becoming a mother satisfied that urge. On 27th September 2018, Lualeni gave birth to our 30th known wild-born calf, a beautiful little girl who we named Lulu. To no one’s surprise, she was an excellent mother and has done a wonderful job raising her daughter. We knew something was afoot last April, when we saw echoes of Lualeni’s old ways: One afternoon, the Ithumba dependent orphans suddenly diverted off course. After a brief search, the Keepers found them converging upon a mud bath where Lualeni and Lulu were lounging! It was clear that Lualeni had summoned them to join her. In hindsight, perhaps she was trying to recruit some dependent orphans as nannies!
We hadn’t seen much of Lualeni and Lulu since that comical recruitment drive. And then, on the afternoon of 7th January 2022, Ithumba Head Keeper Benjamin spotted a cluster of ex orphans along the drive to the stockades. The usual suspects, including Yatta, Kinna, Nasalot, and their kids, were present. He noticed a tiny baby was in their midst, but Ithumba is in the throes of an extraordinary baby boom, so it is getting difficult to tell which baby is which. Then, Benjamin realised that Lualeni was among the group, and that this particular calf clearly belonged to her!
After months of life-threatening conditions, Tsavo is now a green oasis. With a bounty of vegetation around every corner, elephants are no longer anchored to known watering points. As such, our ex orphans’ visits have become fleeting and infrequent. However, we have caught several glimpses of Lualeni and her little family over the past few days. Lulu, who is now three years old, is relishing the role of big sister. Her latest addition, who we have named Lexi, is a picture of health and happiness. She was born into an elephant paradise, surrounded by her loving family and endless playmates.