Thula Thula and the Elephants
Thula Thula is a natural home to most of Zululand’s indigenous wildlife, including Cape buffulo, hyena, the majestic white rhino, giraffes, leopards and many others. It was the oldest private game reserve in its province in South Africa, and the teeming wildlife in the reserve attracted many hunters from all over the world.
The moment Lawrence Anthony bought the reserve and took over, hunting was scrapped and he started the long and tedious work of conserving it and turning it back into its natural state. However, it was no easy task, as many poachers were regularly hiding in the vast reserve and killing off wild animals for their use. Lawrence Anthony and his humble group of workers were unable to totally curb the problem of poaching as the reserve was just too vast.
The first major turning point in his career as a conservationist came in the form of a call, asking for his help in rescuing a herd of nine ‘rogue’ elephants. These elephants were notorious, having escaped every single enclosure they have been put into and were wreaking havoc across the province. Lawrence Anthony was delivered an ultimatum; take the herd of elephants or they would be shot to death.
There was no doubt in his mind; he agreed to take the elephants. Working with his reserve workers and enlisting the help of local Zulus, they worked round the clock to set up electric fences and to prepare the reserve as best as they could to contain these wild elephants. The elephants were brought to the reserve and arrived as seven, as two had been tragically shot to death before their arrival at the reserve. Things were extremely touch-and-go initially, with the elephants successfully breaking out. He was then given a last chance to make the elephants stay in the reserve, and if they broke out again, all the elephants would be put down.
Working as best as he could, Lawrence Anthony even went as far as staying out in the reserve (sleeping in his jeep at night) just to be near the elephants, in the hope that they would get used to his presence and feel safe around him. He also tried to communicate with the elephants, mainly with the matriarch who he named Nana, with the use of his body language and the tone of the voice. He faced many elephant charges, which turned out to be mock, and he never once turned away to escape. Slowly, his ways with the elephants worked and they settled down in the reserve. The elephants would even come up to his house to pay him ‘visits’ as and when they liked, and somehow, they always knew when he came back on business trips, and would be there at his house to welcome him back. Hence, he came to be known all over South Africa, and later the world, as the Elephant Whisperer.
In the years following that, he established a conservation group named The Earth Organisation in 2004. The Earth Organisation is an independent, non-profit organisation that aims to encourage and support conservation, pro-environment and pro-wildlife projects through action and education. Lawrence Anthony understood that the only way to ensure wildlife conservation was to give rural communities living among wild animals a financial stake in their preservation. His efforts hence led to the establishment of two new reserves, the Royal Zulu Biosphere in Zululand and the Mayibuye Game Reserve in Kwa Ximba, where one of their main goals was to provide an income for the local Zululand tribespeople through wildlife tourism.
When he died on 2nd March 2012, the elephants travelled for more than 12 hours to get to his house, seemingly to pay their respects. They stayed there in a vigil for two days before going back into the reserve.
These inspiring stories about his time with the herd elephants, the battle to create bonds with them, taught him about love, life, loyalty and freedom. He learned about the importance of each and every precious life, and how animals are creatures just like us, desiring safety and security. All these that he’d learnt, he aimed to share with the world.