An ode to the elephant whisperer

It was Hollywood which really popularised the life and work of The Elephant Whisperer, Mr. Lawrence Anthony. His book of the same name was met with critical acclaim and then went on the become a feature film which turned the spotlight on the nature of elephants in the wild. A friend of the animal kingdom, Anthony’s genuine and deep spiritual love for these great African beasts has helped him cement his place as one of South Africa’s conservation heroes.

Anthony grew up in the wild bush and earned his stripes by rehabilitating unruly and rogue elephants. One of the most famous and early stories involves Anthony trying to calm a mother elephant as her calf and the rest of the herd stood close by. As with any large mammal in the wild, mothers are fiercely protective of their calves, and elephants especially so. In his own words Anthony describes standing in front of an irate and unreasonable mother elephant who was moments away from crashing through an electric fence and potentially killing him and then herself, facing the wrath of humans. He describes how he found a way to speak calmly and to plead with Nana, the elephant in question, not to do what she was about to do because the outcome would be bad. He laughs at the absurdity of what was happening and how here he was, a small insignificant human with bones like dust in front of a large, angry and powerful elephant. Anthony describes that at one moment as he and Nana looked into each other’s eyes, that something changed. What began as a staring match now became an exchange of feeling, an understanding if you will. No words were needed as he and Nana were now communicating heart to heart. Fortunately, Nana backed down, made and about turn and disappeared into the thick of the bush with her herd in tow. The story of Nana above is just a short bit of the whole tale; a tale which happened almost by chance and was led by Anthony’s courage and unwavering love for the wild. After being contacted to help control a herd of elephants who had gone ‘rogue’, Anthony witnessed firsthand the sheer power and iron will of these animals. After a stand off lasting days and a herd that kept swelling in numbers, desperate to break through an electric fence, the herd very cleverly discovered and destroyed the electric box which powered the fence. The herd was now free and headed northwards, Anthony had the dubious honour of getting these animals to not go any further. After a restless night he describes the eureka moment which set the tone for his future.

“Then, in a flash, came the answer. I would live with the herd. To save their lives, I would stay with them, feed them, talk to them. But, most importantly, be with them day and night. We all had to get to know each other.”

Here was where Anthony’s amazing life story as The Elephant Whisperer began- his life was dedicated to the protection and conservation of these complicated beings. Anthony died in March of this year at his rural residence in the Zululand, South Africa. The news of his death spread worldwide and condolences and messages from all over poured in, but the most poignant of them all did not come from a human, it came from the animal kingdom. After his death a herd of rehabilitated elephants appeared. They loitered outside his house for 2 days after what must have been a 12-hour journey through the wild bush. Many of the elephants present were the same rogue elephants Anthony had encountered in the past and who he had successfully rehabilitated. These once violent and unreasonable creatures were now here to pay their last respects to the man who had saved

their lives. According to Anthony’s son, Dylan, not one but two previously violent herds arrived. They had not come near the house for about a year-and-a-half yet here they were.

How did they know Anthony had passed away? Anthony knew how to get to the heart of these animals, he was respectful and mindful, he took risks and he took time to get to know the herds. As they say, ‘an elephant never forgets’ and these elephants certainly did not forget him. How could they?

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