I was awestruck this morning when we received photos from our team at Thula Thula, the world-renowned, no-kill game preserve created by Lawrence Anthony and his wife Francoise about 20 years ago. As is beautifully told in his book “The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Bush“, the original herd of 7 wild and traumatized elephants developed a friendship with him that was the stuff of legends.
One of the greatest joys of my life was spending time with Lawrence in the bush, watching him interact with the herd and the extraordinary way they responded and reached out to him. It got to the point where every time he returned from a trip, the night he returned the whole herd would “magically” show up at his home to see him. One time he missed his flight; the herd came as far as the garden gate and perceived he wasn’t there and left. But the next night when he returned, they returned to greet him. Twice I arrived to bring a group of people on one of our Eco Safaris on the same day that Lawrence arrived back from a trip. Lo and behold, a few hours later, here came the herd. They would mill around the fence for half an hour or so, listening to Lawrence and reaching out their trunks to touch him, and jockeying for position next to the flimsy electric-wire fence that keeps the jumbos from trampling through the vegetable garden.
The herd has now grown to 30, flourishing and happy in an environment that Lawrence, Francoise, and their staff have worked so hard to maintain for the benefit of all life in the area.
What isn’t told in “The Elephant Whisperer” is what happened when Lawrence passed away. He was 300 miles away in Johannesburg when he died in his sleep. It was apparent that the elies perceived it, because they walked 12 miles to the house and then stayed around it for several hours in obvious distress. Lawrence told me, once, that when a member of the herd dies, they will move into the deep thicket in mourning and, despite the hugeness of these amazing creatures, they can’t be found until they are ready to come out. And that’s what they did when he died, disappearing for 3 or 4 days until they were spotted once again by the local game rangers; and life went on.
Since then, while they have shown up at the house a few times a year, seemingly miraculously, they have come to the house on the anniversary of his death every year for the past 3 years.
Then, the herd returned to the house a few days ago and performed a series of actions they have never done before: kneeling, bowing, and prostrating themselves as though they were circus elephants, in what appeared to be an amazing homage to the people who have worked so hard to protect them in the wild. Here are 4 photos showing how incredible this event was. Enjoy!