“If there ever were a time, when we can truly sense the wondrous ‘interconnectedness of all beings,’ it is when we reflect on the elephants of Thula Thula.”
One man’s oh-so-abundantly loving heart offered healing to these elephants, and they came to pay loving homage to their friend – eco hero, author and legendary conservationist Dr Lawrence Anthony on his passing.
His family tells of a solemn procession of elephants that defies human explanation. For two days the herds loitered at Anthony’s rural compound on the vast Thula Thula game reserve in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal – to say good-bye to the man they loved. But how did they know he had died in March 2012?
Two herds of wild South African elephants slowly made their way through the Zululand bush until they reached the house of late Lawrence Anthony who had saved their lives. The formerly violent, rogue elephants, destined to be shot a few years ago as pests, were rescued and rehabilitated by Anthony, who had grown up in the bush and was known as the “Elephant Whisperer” for his unique ability to calm traumatized elephants.
There are two elephant herds at Thula Thula. According to his son Dylan, both arrived at the Anthony family compound shortly after his untimely death.
“They had not visited the house for a year and a half and it must have taken them about twelve hours to make the journey. They all hung around for about two days before making their way back into the bush.”
The first herd to arrive at Thula Thula several years ago were violent. They hated humans. Anthony found himself fighting a desperate battle for their survival and their trust, which he detailed in The Elephant Whisperer:
“It was 4:45 a.m. and I was standing in front of Nana, an enraged wild elephant, pleading with her in desperation. Both our lives depended on it. The only thing separating us was an 8,000-volt electric fence that she was preparing to flatten and make her escape. Nana, the matriarch of her herd, tensed her enormous frame and flared her ears.’Don’t do it, Nana,’ I said, as calmly as I could. She stood there, motionless but tense. The rest of the herd froze. ‘This is your home now,’ I continued. ‘Please don’t do it, girl.’ I felt her eyes boring into me. ’They’ll kill you all if you break out. This is your home now. You have no need to run any more.’ Suddenly, the absurdity of the situation struck me,” Anthony writes.
“Here I was in pitch darkness, talking to a wild female elephant with a baby, the most dangerous possible combination, as if we were having a friendly chat. But I meant every word. ”You will all die if you go. Stay here. I will be here with you and it’s a good place.” She took another step forward. I could see her tense up again, preparing to snap the electric wire and be out, the rest of the herd smashing after her in a flash. I was in their path, and would only have seconds to scramble out of their way and climb the nearest tree. I wondered if I would be fast enough to avoid being trampled. Possibly not.”
“Then something happened between Nana and me, some tiny spark of recognition, flaring for the briefest of moments. Then it was gone. Nana turned and melted into the bush. The rest of the herd followed. I couldn’t explain what had happened between us, but it gave me the first glimmer of hope since the elephants had first thundered into my life.”
“A good man died suddenly,” says Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, Ph.D., “and from miles and miles away, two herds of elephants, sensing that they had lost a beloved human friend, moved in a solemn, almost ‘funereal’ procession to make a call on the bereaved family at the deceased man’s home.”
So, how after Anthony’s death, did the reserve’s elephants — grazing miles away in distant parts of the park — know? To read an expanded version of this, see http://delightmakers.com/news/wild-elephants-gather-inexplicably-mourn-death-of-elephant-whisperer/
Anthony’s environmental philosophy set him apart. He understood the delicately balanced relationship between the environment, humankind and other life forms. This mutual interdependency and cooperation he called Cooperative Ecology and he went on to consolidate the land between his Thula Thula game reserve near Empangeni with the Imfolozi game reserve in this spirit which will be put to the test as a new reserve in the Camperdown area rolls forward.
His legacy lives on in the hearts of those who loved him – and through The Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization. He’s the author of three books, Babylon’s Ark, detailing his efforts to rescue the animals at Baghdad Zoo during the Iraqi war, his revealing last book The Last Rhinos, and his best selling The Elephant Whisperer.
Thanks to Lisa Lindlad for her blog with its global breadth of reach, depth of observation and exquisite pictures – and to Yvette Taylor, director of The Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization for her tribute, courtesy Environment, a magazine about people & conservation in Africa.