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.
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.