People always say you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when significant events happen – well I remember very clearly hearing the news of Lah Lah’s birth. I was in the forest at the time, seeing her big sister Lulu and playmate Dee Dee, when I got a call from mahout Don, to tell me that they had gone to see Kha Moon that morning and found a strong, healthy baby girl by her side. She was born at about 5am on 30th May 2019. Following this, I was sent pictures and videos of the tiny elephant. It was hard to concentrate on anything else, I couldn’t wait to meet her and watch her grow and learn in the forest along with her mother. The whole village was excited, but everyone agreed to keep things quiet for a little while, and celebrate with each other but keep the news off social media.
I had already been with the project for over a year, so had watched Kah Moon throughout the later stages of her pregnancy. When I first arrived on project we had no idea she was even pregnant, but by late 2018 we had started to hear whispers – maybe, just maybe? Her and Bulowan had been in the same area the previous year, so it was definitely a possibility. I remember going to see her one day in the forest and suddenly noticing how huge she was. She moved sluggishly and uncomfortably, every step seeming like an effort, while hormones dribbled from her temporal glands. We thought that surely she would give birth soon, yet she seemed to stay in this state for an age, getting bigger and bigger, supervised by her best friend Sadja and mother Khum Suk.
I was lucky enough to be able to see her the day after her birth, along with some of the other volunteers. The hike through the forest to see her seemed to take forever, and we were all totally quiet; we didn’t want to disturb the newborn or Kha Moon. We reached a flat bit of ground where some of the mahouts were camping out. It was raining. She was so tiny, but up on her feet, moving her legs in a confused kind of way, wondering what this strange, cold, wet, green world was. Kha Moon seemed to be in awe of this new addition to her family.
She had no name for a while – we just called her ‘the baby’ (or ‘gorchaw poh’ in Pakinyaw). De Lur, Kah Moon’s mahout, is automatically the mahout for the baby as well as long as she is dependant on her mother. The relationship I love to see though, is between her and Don (De Lur’s good friend). Don adores the baby. Before she was named Lah Lah, he would affectionately call her ‘Nana’. His eyes would light up every time we asked how she was doing and he would give us regular baby-elephant updates.
Lah Lah was born deep in the forest, but just a few days after her birth, she was able to walk with Kha Moon several miles so that she was closer to the road, enabling the mahouts to check on her more easily. She stayed with her mother in a clearing for a couple of weeks, slowly learning to adjust to her new environment, practicing her walking, and of course using her trunk. The mahouts camped out every night those first few weeks, to make sure she was safe and that everything was going well. She is lucky to have such a calm, grounded mother – it has turned her into a rather unfazed (and slightly fearless..!) young elephant.
Lah Lah turned 4 months old recently and it’s amazing to see how much she’s grown during this time, and how much she’s learning. She spends most of her time in the forest curling her trunk around things, practicing picking up sticks and trying to break branches like her mother. She is not weaned yet, but imitating foraging behaviour will be very important for her in the future. It can take up to 5 years for elephants to gain complete control over their trunk, so it’s great that she’s getting the practice in early! We can see her improving every day, and it’s honestly such a joy for all of us to see this baby elephant being able to grow up in her natural environment.