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THE ELEPHANT WHISPERER - The Incredible True Story of Wild Elephants

Updated on October 5, 2015
Nana, her calf and Lawrence Anthony
Nana, her calf and Lawrence Anthony

A True Story of Wild Elephants and their Love for one Man

Africa lost an ardent conservationist this year, Lawrence Anthony, died of a heart attack on 2nd March, 2012.

He is perhaps known best as the Elephant Whisperer, but he was also a founder of the Earth Organization in 2003. He talked to Ugandan war rebels in the Congo, to protect the white rhinoceroses, he also fought to save crocodiles and other species.


When the allies invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, he heard that Baghdad had the biggest zoo in the Middle East, and he flew to Kuwait, he packed his car with veterinary supplies and crossed the Iraq border. He arrived in Baghdad, amid the fighting to go to the Zoo.

Of the 650 animals in the Zoo, only 35 were just alive, mainly the large ones like tigers, lions and a brown bear which were all in bad shape. He bought donkeys to feed them and rescued the Hussein family's lions and tigers.

When he left the cages were clean, the animals healthy and the Zoo preserved. The United States Third Infantry Division awarded Lawrence Anthonly a medal for his bravery.

He wrote a book called Babylon's Ark about this experience.

Thula Thula

In the mid 1990s, he bought one of South Africa's largest private game reserves called Thula Thula. (Thula means quiet in Zulu).

Elephants were not part of the plan, but in 1999, he was offered nine elephants and told should he not take this troublesome herd, they would be shot.

Unfortunately in the round up, one of the females and her baby was shot trying to evade capture.

When the herd arrived, they had to be sedated until they calmed down, when the side door opened the matriarch emerged, followed by her baby bull, three females and an 11 year old bull. Last off was the 15 year old son of the female who was shot. He flared his ears and with a trumpet of rage he charged, just stopping short of the fence.

Nana, the matriarch was an escape artist of note and had worked out how to break through electric fences. That night, the two females, worked together to fell a tree which pushed down the fence. They had somehow found the generator and trampled it like a tin can. They then headed north, luckily they managed to find them and bring the herd back to Thula Thula.

All about Trust - Laurence Anthony - Coronation

Lawrence Anthony fought a desperate battle for their survival and trust. That first night back again in the Reserve, he awoke to see the elephants facing the fence, Nana ready to break it down and make another escape.

At 4.45am, Anthony stood in front of this violent, wild female elephant, with her calf, a more dangerous combination is hard to find.

She tensed her enormous frame and flared her ears, "Don't do it Nana", he said as calmly as possible, "Please don't do it girl, this is your home now." Anthony says in his book, that as he continued talking to her, the rest of the herd froze and Nana's eyes bored into him. "They'll kill you all if you break out, this is your home now, you have no need to run. Stay here".

She took another step forward, and Anthony could see her tense up again, ready to go through the fence, and he was directly in her path. Anthony then says there was suddenly some spark of recognition flared and Nana turned and melted into the bush, the rest of herd following.

The bid for freedom increased their resentment, and Nana watched his every move. Anthony said that, in a flash, it came to him, he would live with the herd, be with them day and night. Anthony's book describes this adventure in great detail.

Later he was offered another troubled elephant named ET, who was alone, as her herd had been either sold or shot. The inimitable Nana saved Lawrence's life, when ET charged him. Lawrence said he had no idea how Nana moved to so quickly stepped in front of Lawrence, and place herself broadside to the charging ET. ET stopped, looked at Nana, then turned and walked away. Nana nonchalantly carried on eating, quite unaware of how shaken and grateful Lawrence was to her.

So once again, Lawrence started the process and, as his reputation spread, more troublesome elephants were brought to him.

The remarkable part of this story, is that all the severely traumatised elephants settled down, and two separate herds grew and stayed happily within 5000 acres of Thula Thula.

The Elephants returning to the Anthony home to pay homage to the human they loved.
The Elephants returning to the Anthony home to pay homage to the human they loved. | Source

The family said, on Lawrence Anthony's death, two herds of wild South African elephants slowly made their way through the Zululand bush, a journey which must have taken them at least 12 hours, until they reached the house of the late Anthony, the man who had saved their lives.

The former violent, traumatized elephants who were once destined to be shot as pests, rehabilitated by Anthony, arrived and stayed at his rural compound, on the vast game reserve to say goodbye to the man they loved.

No one knows how they knew Lawrence had died, especially as Lawrence had died in Johannesburg, over 600 kms away.

Both herds arrived at the family home, which they had not visited for a year and a half. They all hung around for a couple of days before making their way back to the bush. Extraordinary proof of animal sensitivity and awareness that only a few humans can perceive, Lawrence being one of them.

If there were a time, when we can truly sense the wondrous interconnectedness of all beings, it is when we reflect on the elephants of Thula Thula. A man's heart stops beating, and his elephants' hearts are grieving. This man's loving heart offered to heal these elephants, and now they came to pay loving homage to their human friend.

Elephants are known to mourn their dead. The less aggressive elephants in India are often raised from babyhood with a boy who will be their lifelong mahout. The pair develop legendary bonds, and it is not uncommon for one to waste away after the death of the other.

Hamba Kahle, Lawrence Anthony, we were privileged to have had you in our lives.

(Hamba Kahle - Go with God in Zulu)

News Report on the Elephants mourning Laurence Anthony


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    • CyberShelley profile imageAUTHOR

      Shelley Watson 

      6 years ago

      precy anza, Thank you so much for visiting. Elephants are simply amazing creatures.

    • precy anza profile image

      precy anza 

      6 years ago from USA

      Such a great story. Elephants are wonderful animals. I remember watching a program on tv about animals saving humans, and elephants are one of those. :) Enjoyed reading the story and voted up!

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      I first heard this story several weeks ago and was truly touched. I am a big fan of elephants - they are such gentle spirits, despite their size. I recently watched documentary on elephants in the wild and was amazed at their capacity for grief, compassion, support and even fun within their families.

    • CyberShelley profile imageAUTHOR

      Shelley Watson 

      6 years ago

      Ruth, thank you for reading. He is a great loss and quite the character too!

    • profile image

      Ruth Pieterse 

      6 years ago

      Such a wonderful story. I loved the book. He is a great loss to conservation. Excellent hub. Voted up.

    • CyberShelley profile imageAUTHOR

      Shelley Watson 

      6 years ago

      Dexter Yarbrough, Yes he was, it was not unusual to see or should I say hear him, bouncing around the reserve in his landrover, with Led Zeppelin music blasting forth!

    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 

      6 years ago from United States

      Hi Cybershelley! This is such a powerful, moving story. Lawrence Anthony was a wonderful man with a beautiful spirit. Many of the elephants probably sensed this in him.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      6 years ago from Mississauga, ON



      you were quite bold to be there so close. I love wildlife, but maintain a very safe distance, using my binoculars or camera's telephoto lenses.

    • CyberShelley profile imageAUTHOR

      Shelley Watson 

      6 years ago

      Suhail thank you. Once we were watching a bull elephant eating in the bush, he looked at us and then trumpeted, flapped his ears and stamped his foot. I moved the car forward rather fast - he then shook his head and carried on eating. I could see then he was having fun with us and if elephants could laugh he was laughing at our fright. National Geographic would have loved him!

    • CyberShelley profile imageAUTHOR

      Shelley Watson 

      6 years ago

      Lucky Cats thank for your wonderful thoughts. There are many marvelous people in this world, who do good work, and we can't know them all so please don't be embarrassed. Thank you for your generous votes.

    • CyberShelley profile imageAUTHOR

      Shelley Watson 

      6 years ago

      DrMark1961. Thank you so much for visiting and sharing. I do appreciate it.

    • CyberShelley profile imageAUTHOR

      Shelley Watson 

      6 years ago

      Cat R. The story about Bahgdad you are telling is so interesting - will you write about it and tell us what you were doing there and what else you saw? Please let me know if you decide to write it.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      6 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      This is a very touching story.

      National Geographic routinely revisits elephants living in the wild and one of its articles was aptly titled, 'Elephants are humans almost'. I think all of us will agree with that. However, there are some of those low life forms who would go out there killing such an intelligent life form on flimsiest of excuses.

      This is an awesome hub.

    • Lucky Cats profile image


      6 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      CyberShelley, my eyes are filled with tears...this is truly beautiful. I believe every word; I've heard of this amazing sensitivity in elephants. There is so much to learn about the animals that share this planet with much! I am pleased and grateful that you've shared this article with your readers; there is much to think about. You've done a huge service to the memory of Lawrence Anthony (whom, I am embarrassed to say..I was unaware of)...the animals he loved and the hopeful, educational information about the animal-human relationship. On this day, in particular, this is GOOD news, a POSITIVE message and a source of happiness for me, personally. Thank you. UP Beautiful Useful Interesting, Awesome. Love it!!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 

      6 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Thank you for passing along this story. Voted up and sharing it.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A beautifully written story thanks for sharing

    • Cat R profile image

      Cat R 

      6 years ago from North Carolina, U.S.

      We didn't get to see all of it. It was fenced up and blocked off. But we saw a lot of the old cages and stuff. And the area around it.

      It was kind of a sad/interesting/weird thing.

      Hussein had those beautiful architectural pieces of art build (one more beautiful than the other), but when you stood on top of 'Victory over America' (funny how he didn't get to finish that one!), you could see the small huts his people lived in. The man-made lakes were once for sure beautiful. The pools were awesome. A mountain build for kids with all kinds of hiding spots. The zoo with the strangely build cages.

      We didn't get to see the surviving animals. It was all blocked off. But the many visible empty cages told a story.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for sharing this interesting report and warm story.

    • CyberShelley profile imageAUTHOR

      Shelley Watson 

      6 years ago

      ShiningIrisheyes, Thank you for feeling the emotion these animals arouse. It is not the first time we have heard stories of wild animals having a type of sixth sense about someone who looked after them, although elephants are such intelligent animals, it still doesn't explain how they knew.

    • CyberShelley profile imageAUTHOR

      Shelley Watson 

      6 years ago

      Cat R, If you saw the zoo in 2004, does that mean that the Zoo deteriorated after Lawrence left? If that is so, then yes it is even worse than a horrible thing.

      Julie, Thank you for visiting, and yes they are the most amazing creatures, and so family orientated and protective.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 

      6 years ago from Upstate, New York

      I thank you for sharing such a touching story. These animals have proven to live by the same emotional means we human do. I can't tell you how much I appreciate this write. They walked 12 hours to pay homeage. If anyone ever questions their emotional understanding they can explain to me how they new this amazing man had died.

      I commend him and his heartfelt work.

    • Julie DeNeen profile image

      Blurter of Indiscretions 

      6 years ago from Clinton CT

      I love elephants. They are such magnificent creatures. Nice job!

    • Cat R profile image

      Cat R 

      6 years ago from North Carolina, U.S.

      Beautiful story about a great man. I saw the zoo in 2004 and it was a ...bad sight. While Hussein undoubtfully was worse than bad, there were a lot of beautiful things left destroyed. And the loss of animals was definitely a horrible thing.

      I am glad he took the chance and faced danger to take care about these animals.

    • CyberShelley profile imageAUTHOR

      Shelley Watson 

      6 years ago

      Maria, thank you so much for visiting, yes it is an amazing and touching story.

    • Maria Cecilia profile image

      Maria Cecilia 

      6 years ago from Philippines

      This is a very touching story....elephant has always been my favorite animal in the zoo...I just found it sad about the separation phase of Animal -Human relationship, one really has to leave ahead or left behind... great hub..


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