Elephants Still Mourn Their Saviour

elephant whisperer

Lawrence Anthony was an acclaimed conservationist, best-selling author and environmentalist. He was the owner and head of conservation at his  Thula Thula Exclusive Private Game Reserve in Zululand, Kwazulu Natal. Anthony was also the founder of The Earth Organization, a privately registered, independent, international conservation and environmental group.

Anthony was known for his bold conservation initiatives, especially during the rescue of the Baghdad Zoo animals during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, as well as during the negotiations with the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army  in Southern Sudan, to raise awareness of the environment and protect endangered species, the last of the Northern White Rhinoceros.

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Elephants had never been part of Anthony’s plan for Thula Thula Game Reserve, but in 1999, he was asked to accept a herd of wild elephants, his common sense told him to refuse. Knowing he was the herd’s last chance of survival, he opened the gates to his reserve, agreeing to give them a home. The herd of elephants would have been killed if he didn’t accept them. The elephants would escape from every enclosure that they had been in, leaving a trail of havoc across KwaZulu Natal. ‘They were a difficult bunch, no question about it,’ he recalled, ‘But I could see a lot of good in them too. They’d had a tough time and were all scared, and yet they were looking after one another, trying to protect one another’. Anthony started by treating the elephants like children, trying to persuade them with words and gestures, showing them that they shouldn’t misbehave and that they could trust him. He focused his attention on the leader of the herd, Nana. ‘I’d go down to the fence and I’d plead with Nana not to break it down,’ he said. ‘I knew she didn’t understand English, but I hoped she’d understand by the tone of my voice and my body language what I was saying. And one morning, instead of trying to break the fence down, she just stood there. Then she put her trunk through the fence towards me. I knew she wanted to touch me. That was a turning point.’ In the years that followed, he became a part of their family.

The elephants taught Anthony about life, loyalty and freedom, which slowly led the elephants to accepting Anthony as part of their herd.  He was known for his unique ability to calm traumatised elephants and herds. Anthony and his wife, Françoise, became so close to the elephants that on some occasions they almost had to chase them out of their living room. He told the heart-warming, exciting, funny and sometimes sad, story of the elephants in The Elephant Whisperer, co-written with Graham Spence.

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Anthony was also involved in two other rescues of animals. He was involved in rescuing animals from the Baghdad Zoo during the Iraqi invasion. Again, for more than 20 years, Anthony worked on convincing The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda, to approve a conservation project to save the last four wild Northern White Rhino, one of the world’s rarest animals. Anthony heard that LRA leaders were meeting the Ugandan government, he decided to gate-crash the talks, which lead him to being the first outsider to be granted permission to enter their Congo base. When LRA officials signed a ceasefire with the Ugandan government in 2007, it included pledges to protect the rhino. Sadly, the ceasefire subsequently collapsed, and the white rhinos have not been seen in recent years. It is feared that they have all been killed.

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Anthony is the author of three books: Babylon’s Ark, the incredible wartime rescue of the Baghdad zoo, The Elephant Whisperer, the extraordinary story of one man’s battle to save his herd, and The Last Rhino, the powerful story of one man’s battle to save a species.

Lawrence Anthony is survived by his wife and by their two sons. It has been reported that after his death his beloved elephant herd came to his house to say goodbye. The elephant’s remarkable yearly ‘memorial’ continues to reoccur annually since the home-grown conservationist, adventurer and best-selling author’s untimely death 2012. For 12 hours the huge beasts slowly made their way through the Zululand bush until they reached the house of the man they loved – to say good-bye. There are two elephant herds at Thula Thula Game Reserve and according to Anthony’s son Dylan, both herds arrived at the house after Anthony’s death. ‘They had not visited the house for a year-and-a-half and it must have taken them about 12 hours to make the journey,’ said Dylan. ‘They all hung around for about two days before making their way back into the bush,’ said Dylan.

A television commercial was made based on the story of conservationist Lawrence Anthony as captured in his bestseller The Elephant Whisperer launched during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.

Sadly, some weeks before filming was set to take place, Anthony passed away and so the commercial is told through the eyes and voice of his wife, Françoise Malby-Anthony, which adds another layer of emotion to this remarkable story.  The role of Lawrence is played by renowned South African actor-director Albert Maritz. Following his death in 2012, Anthony’s legacy on Thula Thula lives on. Francoise Malby Anthony, is expanding the reserve to make more room for the thriving herd and fuel the local economy. Through the Royal Zulu project, Françoise Malby-Anthony is striving to add an additional land to Thula Thula’s current 4500 ha. She also mentioned that the entire elephant herd has visited her house on Thula Thula on precisely the same date each year since Lawrence’s death, seemingly to pay their respects.

All three book are available at Amazon or Exclusive Books.

The Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization is an independent, non-profit group which seeks to reverse the dwindling spiral of the plant and animal kingdoms and our environment through education and action. For more information, go to www.earthorganization.org.

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