What we don’t know about animal communication is as vast as the universe we inhabit so how on earth does one man communicate with a herd of rogue elephants whose last chance at survival is to behave and literally adapt or die? Like most of the endeavours Lawrence Anthony undertakes, he used his uncanny intuition and crate loads of dogged determination to work a miracle.
I met Lawrence in 2008 at Thula Thula, his game reserve in Kwazulu Natal, and was blessed to encounter the elephants he saved and successfully rehabilitated within the reserve. This book was already coming into being then and we were told some choice tales of the encounters between the herd and certain visitors who had met them in the early days of their lives there.
Elephants communicate via rumbling sounds made in their stomachs and the sounds are picked up via their highly sensitive feet. Their messages carry across vast distances in a similar way to the messages whales create via their sonar
voices. Lawrence tells many stories of the sentient communication skills of elephants and says the title of the book really refers to the way they communicate with each other, rather than the way he gets his message across to them.
The matriarch of the herd, Nana, was wild and deeply traumatised by human behaviour. She and her herd were brought to Thula Thula as a last resort and Lawrence and his team were given one chance at successfully integrating them into the reserve otherwise the Parks Board would intervene and kill them all.
And so begins a riveting tale of narrow escapes, magic interventions, heart wrenching intuitive communication and eventual bonding of gargantuan proportion. Trust and love is redefined within the natural world and echoes the common concerns of man.
This remarkable book brings you an unforgettable story of human and animal interaction that will leave you pondering the very nature of our responsibility towards the animals we
treat as commodities and not as fellow sentient beings who share this fragile earth with us and who we are given custodianship of.
Elephants are highly intelligent creatures and as the saying goes; “A memory like an elephant” reminds us that they do indeed remember long after we would like them to forget. They were hunted out of existence in the Kwazulu Natal region and to this day are still poached and culled en masse. They remember how humans treat them and when herds are culled the messages are carried across vast distances to warn elephants of the danger present.
At his book launch at The Cape Town Book Fair Lawrence told us that the proposed major cull of elephants in the Kruger is an imminent disaster for the psyche of the elephants that will be left behind. How this will impact on the behaviour of the remaining herds and how they interact with the thousands of tourists who visit the reserve is yet to be seen and we all hope will be avoided as the scientific
‘proof’ of the efficacy of elephant culling is non existent, nor do elephants have a destructive effect on biodiversity as is often touted as the main reason behind culling.
Lawrence Anthony is a renowned conservationist, environmentalist and is the founder of the Earth Organisation. He received the Earth Day medal for his work saving the zoo animals of Baghdad and has been the recipient of the Global Nature Fund “Living Lakes Best Conservation Practise Award for a remarkable contribution to Nature conservation and environmental protection.”
He is currently working with local communities in Kwazulu Natal to create the largest game reserve that will be co-owned and managed by these communities in the endeavour to create a truly sustainable model for conservation in South Africa.
The Elephant Whisperer ISBN 978-0-330-50668-7 is available at leading book stores throughout the country.