Often science is so overwhelming and so clean-cut that it’s hard to see anything but facts and figures. But there will always be things that we don’t understand and can’t explain, especially in the realms of animal science.
-For Lawrence Anthony.
For those who haven’t read my review of ‘Alex and Me’ by Irene Pepperberg, leave this page now and read that one first.
Are you done? Good.
Thula Thula is a game reserve in the heart of Zululand, South Africa. In 1999 for the first time in century, the area became home to a herd of elephants. These elephants are completely unlike those you see at the zoo. A life of human abuse has pushed this herd to the breaking point. They have all watched as their matriarch and her young calf was shot in from of them. They’ve been abused and they’ve been scared. They break through electric fences, charge any human they see and escape every enclosure. Thula Thula-and more importantly, its owner Lawrence Anthony is the very last chance for these elephants. The deal: either Anthony takes on the traumatised and unruly herd, or they will all be killed.
By slowly gaining the trust of these elephants-in a completely unconventional manner, Anthony is able to rescue the herd. The true nature of elephants, their intelligence and their relationships are more closely observed in this book than I have ever read before. ‘The Elephant Whisperer’ by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence extracts the key moments from Anthony’s life at Thula Thula over a decade or so. There are deaths, births and weddings. Thula Thula and its staff face fire, flood, mutiny, threats from the tribal community, tagati (evil spirits) and the most dangerous predator of all: man.
I really enjoyed reading about Africa and its people in this book. It was and insight into how the tribal community operates, and how important it is to the people. Anthony jokes that the people he hires from the community are pretty hopeless at using the walkie talkies in the park-but then there are aspects of their lives that we would not have even the smallest glimpse of understanding. I think this book would be a good one to read for anyone who is travelling to Africa, or anyone who loves learning about different cultures. It also speaks highly of the beauty of the land.
The defining difference between ‘The Elephant Whisperer’ and ‘Alex and Me’ is that the former is written by a conservationist, not a scientist. I tend to incline more towards the science side of things myself, so I was a little disappointed by the lack of actual facts and research which were so prominent in Alex and Me. Many of the observations made are of a somewhat spiritual nature-i.e., what Anthony feels is happening-as opposed to knowing what is happening. And that’s okay. Often, science is so overwhelming and so clean-cut that it’s hard to see past facts and figures. But there will always be things that we don’t understand and can’t explain, especially in the realms of animal science.
I believe Lawrence Anthony was similar to people like Jane Goodall, Irene Pepperberg and Dian Fossey, but with slightly less science orientation. They’re on the same page, but from a different book. I’ve recently found out that Lawrence Anthony passed away in 2012. Apparently after is death, the elephants from the reserve stood vigil outside his home on the reserve for two days. I am crying as I type this, because just as I’d found a hero, I discovered I’ll never get a chance to meet him.
One day, I will go to Thula Thula. And I will see these elephants. Or their great grandcalves in any case. And I will thank them for inspiring Lawrence Anthony to write The Elephant Whisperer.
If you’re looking for something different, are interested in conservation, culture or animals, this book is definitely one that you should pick up.