An old friend kept telling me to read this book as not only was she captivated by the tale of a passionate conservationist taming a herd of rogue elephants, but the vivid picture of the bush setting had reignited a deep desire to return to her Zululand roots.
And then the connection was made. The author, Lawrence Anthony was the son of the iconic Zululand Observer editor, Reg Anthony. My first job was as a fledgling reporter with the newspaper in Empangeni. The co-author, Graham Spence had worked for the same newspaper group in another lifetime.
I couldn’t wait to get my hands on The Elephant Whisperer and was enthralled from the first chapter.
The story, in essence, is about the incredible relationship Lawrence forges with a herd of rogue elephants destined to be shot if he doesn’t agree to take them on. As the owner of Zululand’s Thula Thula game reserve, against all common sense and in true Lawrence style, he tackles the challenge head on.
And what a challenge it is. These magnificent creatures have been maltreated and it becomes increasingly evident that an elephant, indeed, never forgets. Their trust in man has been severely compromised. It takes sheer perseverance and incredible patience, love and understanding for Anthony to build their trust – even sleeping near their enclosure to get them accustomed to his presence.
The journey is a tough one. Try capturing seven dangerous and unpredictable elephants who have managed to break the circuit in an electric fence and facing locals itching to simply shoot the magnificent creatures.
But he persists and against all odds, manages to gain their trust and persuades them to make the reserve their home. Along the way, we are privy to the tough environment he is working in, the intricacies of appeasing tribal leaders and the ongoing battle against poachers. There is an insight into the commitment of his faithful staff and their deep love for the animals. Then there is his French wife Francoise and her long-suffering attitude which includes seeing her prized herb garden flattened by the herd.
Readers are also given a captivating glimpse of the beauty and enchantment of the Zululand bush and the richness and diversity of its landscape and the creatures that inhabit the vast reserve.
A magnificent read. My only regret is that I didn’t come to know of Lawrence Anthony and his courageous conservation efforts sooner. Tragically, he died a few weeks prior to my discovering the book which made the read even more poignant.
What a legacy he has left.
By Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence
Published by Pan Books
*Also check out Babylon’s Ark, the incredible wartime rescue of the Baghdad Zoo.