When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of 7 ‘rogue’ and ‘trouble-making’ Elephants on his reserve at Thula Thula in 1999, his common sense told him to refuse. But he was the herd’s last chance of survival – notorious escape artists, they would all be killed if Lawrence wouldn’t take them. He agreed, but before arrangements for the move could be completed the animals broke out again and the matriarchand her baby were shot. The remaining Elephants were traumatised and very angry. As soon as they arrived at Thula Thula they started planning their escape.
As Lawrence battled to create a bond with the Elephants and save them from execution, he came to realise that they had a lot to teach him about love, loyalty and freedom. Set against the background of life on the reserve, with unforgettable characters and exotic wildlife, he wrote The Elephant Whisperer, a book that appealed to animal lovers worldwide.The original herd of 7 Elephants has now increased to 29 Elephants, the maximum sustainable capacity of Thula Thula.
In March 2012, Lawrence Anthony passed away. His family spoke of a solemn procession of elephants that defies human explanation.
For 12 hours, two herds of wild South African elephants slowly made their way through the Zululand bush until they reached the house of Lawrence Anthony. The formerly violent, rogue elephants, destined to be shot a few years ago as pests, were rescued and rehabilitated by Lawrence.
They stood around the house in an apparent vigil for two days, and then dispersed.
“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,” Lawrence’s son Dylan said. “The first herd arrived on Sunday and the second herd, a day later. They all hung around for about two days before making their way back into the bush.”
But how did the elephants know Lawrence had died?
“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.”
“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. A man’s heart’s stops, and hundreds of elephants’ hearts are grieving. This man’s oh-so-abundantly loving heart offered healing to these elephants, and now, they came to pay loving homage to their friend.”
Thanks to the local community, Thula Thula has the opportunity to add a further 3500 hectares of land to increase their habitat. This solution requires 35 km of electric fencing as well as roads, increased security, guard training, security equipment and vehicles, conservation, land management and the list just go on, to keep the wildlife safe. Community projects such as this, not only support the wildlife but also improve local employment and education.