Jul 20, 2014

The Elephant Whisperer

by Lawrence Anthony

The author of this remarkable story ran a wildlife reserve in Zululand. He unexpectedly became the owner of a family of "rouge" elephants when their lives were threatened: they were such troublemakers that they were going to be killed. When first introduced to the Thula Thula reserve, the elephants did continually break out at first, trying to return to their former home (where if found they would be immediately shot). Anthony got the elephants to stay not only by building stronger electric fences, but by convincing the wild elephants (determined to trample any humans they saw) that he was not a danger to them, and to keep them calm until they accepted the new place as their home. They grew to trust him enough that he was eventually able to approach the adults closely, and they even began to seek out his company. The story relates his continual struggle to keep the animals (and people who worked or lived on the reserve) safe- dealing with poachers, neighboring tribal strife, floods and storms that broke fences, his own dogs confronting dangerous wildlife, poisonous snakes, preparing the reserve to receive guests (and then dealing with a new set of problems they brought) for the much-needed income, and so on. There are funny moments as well as sad ones- more than once evoking an involuntary verbal outburst from me as I read the pages. There were also many incredible moments, as Anthony learned how to communicate with these giant, wild animals in an effort to gain their trust and promote healing from the atrocities they had suffered at the hands of man (much of their family killed before they came to the reserve). It is definitely a book I want to read again.

When looking for more reviews about this book online, instead I found numerous articles relating how after his death in 2012, the author's home was visited by two herds of elephants. The elephants had not been to his house in three years, but travelled miles through the bush to pay a visit upon his death. They stayed for two days, then trekked back into the bush. No one knows how they were aware of his passing.

Anthony also wrote a book about rhinos, and one about his efforts helping to rescue wildlife from the Baghdad Zoo in 2003. Want to read both of those now.

Rating: 4/5       368 pages, 2009

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