The Elephant Whisperer, Part 2

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.

About Lawrence Anthony

Lawrence Anthony ( 1950 – 2012) was an international conservationist, environmentalist, explorer, and bestselling author. He was the long-standing head of conservation at the Thula Thula animal reserve in Zululand, South Africa. He founded The Earth Organization, a privately registered, independent, international conservation and environmental group with a strong scientific orientation. He was an international member of the esteemed Explorers Club of New York and a member of the National Council of the Southern Africa Association for the Advancement of Science, South Africa’s oldest scientific association.

Anthony had a reputation for bold conservation initiatives, including the rescue of the Baghdad Zoo at the height of the US-led Coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003 and negotiations with the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army rebel army in Southern Sudan to raise awareness of the environment and protect endangered species, including the last of the Northern White Rhinoceros.

Details of his conservation activities appeared regularly in regional and international media, including CNN, CBS, BBC, and Al Jazeera. In addition, his work was featured in magazines and journals such as Reader’s Digest, the Smithsonian, the Explorers JournalAfrica GeographicMen’s JournalShape magazine, and Elle magazine.

Anthony was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was raised in rural Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Zambia, and Malawi, before settling in Zululand, South Africa. Anthony worked in the insurance industry and real estate development. Over time, Anthony began working with Zulu tribespeople, and his passion for the African Bush inspired him to switch careers in the mid-1990s. He purchased the Thula Thula game reserve spanning five thousand acres in KwaZulu-Natal, starting his career as a conservationist.

A turning point in his career came when a conservation group asked him to rescue a group of nine elephants who had escaped their enclosure and were wreaking havoc across Northern Mpumalanga and were about to be shot. He saved them and brought them to the Thula Thula reserve. He tried to communicate with the herd’s matriarch through the tone of his voice and body language, and in time came to be known as the “Elephant Whisperer.”

In 2003, he founded the conservation group, The Earth Organization. Anthony’s efforts led to establishing two new reserves, the Royal Zulu Biosphere in Zululand and the Mayibuye Game Reserve in Kwa Ximba. Both reserves provide local tribe people income through wildlife tourism.

As an African Wildlife expert, Anthony was long involved with programs to affect remote African tribes in the conservation of their traditional land, an activity he considered essential to the future well-being of conservation in Africa. In 2003, he helped create two new Game Reserves in South Africa–The Royal Zulu Biosphere in Zululand and the Mayibuye Game Reserve in Kwa Ximba, which joined with the world-famous Umfolozi Hluhluwe reserve, creating the largest reserve in South Africa.

In 2013, Anthony wrote another memoir, The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures, about his extraordinary adventure into the jungle to ask the Congo rebels to help protect the rhino. The Last Rhinos tells the story of his fight to save these remarkable creatures.

When Lawrence Anthony learned that only a handful of northern white rhinos were left in the wild, living in an area of the Congo controlled by the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army, he was determined to save them from extinction. If the world lost this rhinoceros subspecies, it would be the largest land mammal since the woolly mammoth went extinct, a tragedy for those who care about the world’s endangered species. But unfortunately, even with 24-hour guards, the last lone northern white rhino was killed by poachers, and this species is now extinct.

When the Iraq war began, conservationist Lawrence Anthony could think of only one thing: the fate of the Baghdad Zoo, caught in the crossfire at the city’s heart. Once Anthony entered Iraq, he discovered that hostilities and uncontrolled looting had devastated the zoo and its animals. Baghdad Zoo was the biggest zoo in the Middle East; however, by the eighth day after the 2003 invasion began, when Anthony reached the zoo, out of the original 700 animals in the Baghdad Zoo, only 35 survived the bombing of the zoo, looting of the animals for food, and starvation in cages without food and water. Working with members of the zoo staff and a few compassionate U.S. soldiers, he defended the zoo, bartered for food on war-torn streets, and scoured bombed palaces for desperately needed supplies. 

The animals that survived tended to be the larger animals, including bears, hyenas, lions, and tigers. In the chaos of the war, Anthony used mercenaries to help protect the zoo, looked after the animals with the help of some zookeepers, and fed the carnivores by buying donkeys on the streets of Baghdad. US Army soldiers, Iraqi civilians, and other volunteers, including former Republican Guard soldiers, came to assist.

Babylon’s Ark chronicles Anthony’s efforts to save a pride of Saddam’s lions, shut down a deplorable black-market zoo, the running of ostriches through shoot-to-kill checkpoints, and rescue the dictator’s herd of thoroughbred Arabian horses.

Anthony served on the National Transitional Executive Committee during the South African Government’s transition from Apartheid. 

Anthony died of a heart attack at the age of 61 before his planned March 2012 conservation gala dinner in Durban, South Africa, to raise international awareness for the rhino-poaching crisis and to launch his new book, The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures.

In April 2012, he was posthumously awarded a Doctor of Science degree by the College of Agriculture, Engineering, and Science of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

After his death, a group of wild elephants, which he had helped rescue and rehabilitate, walked up to his home on their own and stood around in an apparent vigil for two days before dispersing.

Francoise Malby Anthony

Anthony was married to Francoise Malby. He has two sons (Dylan and Jason) and two grandsons. Francoise Malby Anthony also wrote accounts of their work with the elephants.

About Author Graham Spence

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Graham Spence is a journalist; born in Zimbabwe, who grew up in Mozambique and lived in South Africa, working at various daily, Sunday, and regional newspapers. Spence met Anthony while covering the war in Baghdad.

He has co-written three non-fiction books with Lawrence Anthony: Babylon’s Ark, The Elephant Whisperer, and The Last Rhinos.

If you’re looking for a good read, I can’t recommend Lawrence Anthony’s books highly enough. But, who knows, perhaps after you read one, you’ll get bit by the travel bug to visit South Africa and the majestic animals there.

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