The Elephant Whisperer

This morning I received an email that made me remember once more an amazing man, Lawrence Anthony, a brave South African who put himself in danger countless times fighting for the protection of wild animals – danger not just from the (often very abused) animals themselves, but also from the conflict and instability in some of the areas where he did his work. He even worked with the Lord’s Resistance Army in Southern Sudan to promote the conservation and protection of the Northern White Rhino… if that’s not bravery, I don’t know what is. Many know him not by name, but by the title “the Elephant Whisperer”, and it doesn’t take much to understand why he’s called that.

Among other things, he founded Thula Thula game reserve in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, where he lived with his family – it had been one of my dreams to go there to meet him, but sadly he passed away suddenly earlier this year just before a gala dinner that he had organised to raise funds for combatting rhino poaching in South Africa. I will still go to Thula Thula though – and I hope some of you do too.

One of the most amazing things about Lawrence’s death was the response of the elephants in Thula Thula and the surrounding areas. Although he wasn’t even at Thula Thula when he passed away, his elephants seemed to sense his death immediately and went into mourning. Those who witnessed it said it was nothing short of bizarre and miraculous, one of those things that human science just cannot explain.

It was almost reminiscent of Lawrence’s return to Thula Thula many years ago after an extended period of time away in Bagdad, Iraq, where he was involved in rescuing wild animals from Bagdad Zoo after the US invasion triggered war in the country and the animals had been left to starve. He’d been away for many months, but his elephants knew the very night he was to return to Thula Thula… and they were waiting for him when he arrived. Neither he nor any of his staff could believe it, nor could they even guess as to how the elephants knew that he was coming back that night. They just knew.

Two days after Lawrence’s death, after friends and family had gathered at Thula Thula to mourn his passing, about 31 wild elephants arrived at his house, led by several matriarchs. They had walked over 12 miles during those 2 days and had very obviously come to pay their respects.

As you can imagine, those gathered at the Anthony’s home were in total awe – not just at at supreme intelligence of the elephants for having sensed Lawrence’s passing, but also because of the profound memory and emotion the elephants clearly felt toward Lawrence.

An expert, asked for his opinion, could explain it no more than to say: “A good man died suddenly, and from miles and miles away, two herds of elephants, sensing that they had lost a beloved friend, moved in a solemn, almost ‘funereal’ procession to make a call on the bereaved family at his home. If there ever was a time when we can truly sense the wondrous interconnectedness of all beings, it is when we reflect on the elephants of Thula Thula. A man’s heart stops, and hundreds of elephants are grieving. This man’s abundantly loving heart offered healing to these elephants, and now they have come to pay loving homage to their friend.”

Lawrence’s wife, Francoise, was especially touched. The elephants hadn’t come to the house in over 3 years, so she knew that it wasn’t just coincidental timing – she knew they had come because Lawrence had died. The elephants stayed for 2 days and 2 nights outside the Anthony’s home, without eating anything, and then one morning, they left, making their long journey back.

There are so many stories in Lawrence’s life that have changed the way I regard animals. Please give his books a read if you can, I guarantee that they will change the way you see life: Babylon’s Ark (on the rescue of animals from the Bagdad Zoo); the Elephant Whisperer and The Last Rhinos. Even if you’re not an “animal person”, in fact, especially if you’re not an animal person, I highly recommend them!


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