The Elephant Whisperer, Part 1

Ask any of my friends if they thought I would ever visit Africa, and I assure you they would unequivocally say No! But listening to The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence, the desire to visit South Africa was ignited. I first became aware of The Elephant Whisperer after it received an Audie Award for Memoir in 2014. Through one book, I learned about elephants–their intelligence and behavior, as well as their need for protection from poachers. I also received a candid introduction to wildlife conservation in Africa and life on game reserves. Listening to the audiobook again as I prepared to visit South Africa, the book’s relevance struck me in 2023, as it was in 2009 when it was first published.

About The Elephant Whisperer

From Publisher’s Weekly: In 1998, prize-winning conservationist Anthony purchased Thula Thula, “5,000 acres of pristine bush in the heart of Zululand, South Africa,” transforming a rundown hunters’ camp (dating to the 19th century) into a wild animal preserve and a center for eco-tourism. In 1999, Anthony agreed to take in a herd of “troubled” wild elephants, the first seen in the area in more than a century. Winning the elephants’ trust, becoming deeply attached, and even learning how they communicate (deep, rumbling “whispers,” sensed rather than heard), Anthony took enormous risks in the form of enraged elephants, distrustful neighbors, and poachers. Over time Anthony succeeds in his larger goal, winning support from the six Zulu tribes whose land borders the reserve (“most Zulus … had never set eyes on an elephant”); they eventually join Anthony’s venture as partners in a larger conservation trust.

My Trip to The Schotia Reserve

On the three safari drives I went on, I asked my guides if they had heard of Lawrence Anthony and the Thula Thula Reserve. Each one responded, “You mean the Elephant Whisperer?” I had the most extended conversation about Anthony on my second safari drive because I was fortunate to be seated next to our guide, Mike.

Schotia Reserve is the oldest private game reserve in the Eastern Cape of  South Africa,  bordering the eastern side of Addo Elephant National Park. The reserve is malaria free and is probably the most densely stocked reserve in Africa, with more than 40 mammal species and approximately 2,000 animals. In addition, Schotia was the first reserve in the Cape Province to have free-roaming lions. This Private Game Reserve is owned, managed, and run ‘hands-on’ by the Bean family, who are now in their sixth generation and have held the original Orlando farm since the early 1800s. 

Like Anthony, our guide Mike is a native-born South African with twenty years of experience as a conservation guide. He remembered Anthony’s work with not only elephants but rhinos as well. Schotia has five elephants and two rhinos named Bonnie and Clyde.

I asked Mike if poachers had hit the Scotia Reserve, and he said yes. He told me about poachers coming in by helicopter, sedating the Scotia’s two rhinos, and then cutting off their horns. The Rhinos survived the brutal attack. Bonnie first woke up from the sedation and protected Clyde until the reserves’ vets arrived to care for both animals. Bonnie and Clyde’s tusks have regrown, but Mike told me they are still traumatized after ten years.

Clyde. Poachers had once attacked Clyde, and his horn was removed. Clyde, fortunately, survived the attack and his horn regrew. Most of the rhinos poached are killed.

As the land rovers traverse the reserve, the guides use walkie-talkies to let other guides know where various animals are, and being sighted means poachers have not attacked them. The rhinos are never referred to over the radio because poachers listen in on the broadcasts. Instead, guides refer to them as Bonnie and Clyde. At night and whenever else the Reserve is closed, then private security guard Bonnie and Clyde’s lives.

I’ll tell you more about Lawrence Anthony’s life and the three books he wrote tomorrow.

Debora Ragland Buerk
The Write Stuff
Looking at life from a different POV.