Lawrence Anthony
From Facebook Thula Thula Reserve

In no way am I a soft touch, but this one got me and got me good.

Not that I’m a stranger to animal stories. I’ve always had pets (mostly cats and dogs) and animals around me. Surrounded by the daily activity of birds, squirrels, and bunnies, nature and nature watching are part of my day. I even spent a couple of years teaching humane education classes to children in schools. And there’s my first full length book on animal intelligence that never saw the light of day. But another of my books is closer to the heart of the story I’m going to tell. That book was about elephants.

Noted conservationist Lawrence Anthony died in March this year and, shortly after his death, two herds of elephants arrived at the family compound in South Africa. No one knows how the elephants could have known about Anthony’s death, but it seemed evident to the family that they had come to pay their respects to a friend who had saved their lives. The elephants lingered for two days before returning to the bush. This incident reminds us of the interconnectedness of all things and the many mysteries that tie our lives together in unimaginable ways. Simple, dignified, powerful, and heart-centered.

Lawrence Anthony was an insurance man and real estate developer before he undertook the running of one of South Africa’s largest game sanctuaries. In the mid-1990s, he purchased the 5000 acre reserve known as Thula Thula. Adding luxury accommodations and fine dining, he promoted eco-tourism.

An out of the blue phone call in 1999 came and changed his life. He was offered a herd of nine problematic elephants who were going to be shot if he refused them. He was also told the herd was violent and the matriarch was a talented escape artist. Knowing the job would be difficult, Anthony took it anyway. There was a chance to save the elephants and reintroduce them onto Zulu lands. Only seven of the elephants were delivered to Thula Thula. Two had been killed in the transfer and in the presence of the surviving seven. The herd arrived traumatized and angry.

That first night the elephants broke out of their containment area. They first smashed an electric generator and then, acting as a team, two adults used a tree to take down the electric fence. Racing against time and locals armed to shoot to kill, Anthony and his reserve rangers managed to get the elephants back onto safe ground. Later, as Anthony looked at the matriarch, he realized that it was just a matter of time before they’d break out again. And that’s when inspiration struck. In order to foster trust and understanding, Anthony decided he’d live with them. His experience with the herd is the subject of his book The Elephant Whisperer.

From Facebook Thula Thula Reserve

Many may also remember it was Lawrence Anthony who raced to Baghdad in 2003 after the American invasion to rescue the zoo animals left abandoned in the city. More about his life can be found in his three published books and on the Thula Thula FACEBOOK page.


Filed under animals, Books


  1. I echo the accolades of your other readers. You post makes me want to order this book. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for stopping by today. 🙂

  2. It’s been related that elephants may be even more intelligent than some of the higher primates. It is sad that they, like so many beautiful animals, are so very endangered.

  3. rebeccavt

    I actually saw this story on 60 Minutes. Amazing and touching, but not surprising. 😉

  4. Wow – touching story! I’ll check this book soon.

  5. Tom

    This story really touched my heart as well. I heard a beautiful discourse on St. Francis today so it’s very appropriate that I should stumble across this today. May all beings be happy!

  6. Elephants have always been some of my favorite animals. I have a children’s book in progress about elephants soon to be available on Amaizon.com. They are incredible animals. very intelligent. Thanks for your post. It was very moving. Beryl

  7. Wonderful! Thank you! With deep Peace and Love,

  8. What a remarkable story. I’ve heard that elephants do show signs of mourning. They–and the world–have lost a good friend. Thank you for visiting and liking my blog.

  9. I really love this post 🙂 Love telling stories too to kids especially of cancer patient children, as part of our group’s little effort to help them out…

  10. This is an incredible story! My very first stuffed animal was a purple elephant (yes her name was Ellie–original, I know) and I’ve loved elephants ever since. We never really know the impact our actions will have for the future–thanks for sharing and thanks for stopping by my blog:)

  11. The human race is great only because there have been a few special people that have contributed something significant to push us along the path to greatness. Lawrence was one of those special people. The sad thing is it seems we only learn how wonderful they are after they are gone, and thereby loose out on once in a life-time opportunities to interact with them. I definitely will have to pick up that book. Thank you…

  12. Incredible and touching story. Thanks for sharing it and for stopping by my blog.

  13. Thanks for the like on my post. Nice tale about the elephants paying their respects. Pete, England.

  14. Professions for PEACE

    Wonderfully well written. Thank you for sharing more about this amazing story. When I learned about the elephants starting their journeys to his compound immediately after his death, I cried all day. Cannot explain it, but it touched me so deeply to be able to witness another species grieving – for a human. Their friend. This wonderful world is so much more amazing than we tend to realize. My humble post about Mr. Anthony, only if you are interested: http://professionsforpeace.com/2012/05/23/elephants-mourning/
    Namaste. Gina

    • You wrote a very touching tribute. More and more scientists are begining to recognize the intelligence and emotional depth of our companion species who share the earth with us. A lot of us already know it and science is stubborn about catching up.

      • Professions for PEACE

        Thank you for this kind reply and for visiting. You are right about many of us knowing already, and science stubbornly catching up! Cheers

  15. Wow, very intersting story of Lawrence Anthony. I’d never heard of him, but his life seems very purposeful.Thank you for sharing.

  16. Wow. Now I know why Evernote uses an elephant as it’s icon, because elephants never forget. This is an awesome post! Thanks for sharing, Ellis! 🙂

  17. betinaj

    Wonderful post…thank you for sharing this inspirational tribute.

  18. Pingback: Weekend Linkroll « M. Fenn

  19. Very moving post. I am trying to buy your book through Barnes & Noble – the purchasing process gets stuck – waiting for their Help team. I look forward to read it!

  20. notedinnashville

    Okay, you got me too! What a great story.

  21. I never knew that Lawrence Anthony died this year. The world lost a wonderful and caring man. Apparently, the elephants never do forget…

  22. Another beautiful testement to the fact that we are indeed all connected. And that humans don’t have a corner on the market of intelligence. I’ve always held that nature’s elegant intuition trumps man’s rational thought any day!! Thanks for the heads up on another spectacular read!!

  23. Thanks for the lovely story. I love elephants!

  24. This is a beautiful story!

  25. Animal abuse makes my heart ache. A great post about a great man.

  26. Life's amazing journey

    What an inspiring story!

  27. Thanks for liking my blog; may not have found yours otherwise. (Not nearly enough time in the day for my new hobby of blogging AND all the gotta-do’s in life .) Loved the post, and best of luck on your book. Sounds like one my son and I would love to read. 🙂

  28. What a moving and beautiful story. I’d heard about it before but great to be reminded and inspires me to read his book. Thanks for sharing such warm, real life beauty and wisdom.

  29. Great post. I’m always amazed how much animals love us. The Elephant Whisperer sounds like an enjoyable read.

  30. I’ve heard stories about elephants that resemble this, but it sounds compelling. Keep us posted on the book.

  31. Thanks for “liking my blog”. It has led me here and I like what you write about very much. Weez

  32. I’ve heard of Mr Anthony, My Mom Person reads a lot and talks a lot about all things Africa. Sometimes she shares stories with me. He seems to be a fascinating man. But I would like to know more about your book about elephants?

    • I have a sci-fi, mid grade novel called Elephants Never Forgotten. In a world of the future children have micro pets. Many flagship species have gone extinct. One teen inherits a herd of micro-elephants from her grandfather. Along with that, she learns her herd is different and that her grandfather was involved in species restoration. Can she protect the herd, the secret, and the lives that depend on it? Maybe one day. I’ll get it published! I spent a long time researching elephant behavior to write it.

  33. Excellent post – an thoughtful tribute to a man who inspires the rest of us to make a difference!!!

  34. Reblogged this on Andrew Shattuck McBride, Writer's Blog and commented:
    Wonderful post by ellisnelson about Lawrence Anthony, the “Elephant Whisperer.” Thank you ellisnelson!

  35. This is a wonderful post; thank you so much! I’m a big fan of elephants, too.

    Blessings to the memory of Lawrence Anthony and blessings to all elephants.

    All the best, Andrew

  36. Always love your posts. Have a special place for elephants in my heart so I’m very much looking forward to reading the “elephant whisperer”. Thank you so much for sharing and elevating my day!

  37. This sounds like a book worth reading. Thanks for the intro.

  38. Art and Picture Framing

    Excellent! Thank you so much for this information.

  39. Thanks for making me aware of Lawrence Anthony. What a wonderful man. It’s a shame he’s gone.

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