Saving Africa

The elephant whisperer is Lawrence Anthony's very readable account (thanks to writer, Graham Spence) of his work with African wildlife, notably elephants, in the former private game reserve Thula Thula, now part of the Royal Zulu biosphere in South Africa.

Anthony was already well known for his conservation work in Africa, when he was asked to accept a herd of elephants that had been causing havoc in Mpumalanga, where they were constantly breaking through fences and terrifying the local population. Thula Thula was these rogue elephants last chance. They had good reason for not trusting man, but would have to learn to live with at least moderate interaction with humans if they were going to survive. Anthony soon learned that he had a truly jumbo problem as the elephants proved to be much more difficult than even he had anticipated.

By endless patience, some wonderful counter intuitive thinking, and a novel approach to working with the animals, Anthony rehabilitated these animals, and brought elephants back to an area of Africa that, thanks to the depredations of poachers, had been elephant free for many years.

Alongside the central story of the relationship between Anthony and the elephants, there's also the wider story of Lawrence's fight to turn Thula Thula into part of a much bigger whole. A reservation that would spread over 500,000 acres, and open up some of the old migration routes to the wildlife of the region. Anthony's approach to the native fauna of Africa is truly humbling. His belief that everything has a place, and an importance in nature, be they cute baby elephant or giant crocodile, was constantly tested; but he was determined to make the wider reservation a place where every part of nature was valued.

I wasn't altogether in tune with him spiritually, and there are odd infelicities, but overall this is a wonderful book. Lawrence Anthony sounds like a great man, whose love for Africa and its animals shines through, his commitment to conservation is awe-inspiring, and his respect for the people, animals and land of the African continent salutary. I was very sorry to learn that he had died shortly before his last book, The last rhinos, which told of Anthony's dangerous journey into the Congo to rescue an endangered herd of Northern White Rhinos, was published.

The elephant whisperer is a fitting tribute to the work of Lawrence Anthony, and of conservationists struggling to preserve animals who are on the verge of extinction everywhere. This wasn't the sort of book I would normally read (I think Born Free, I dreamed of Africa, and, to a lesser extent The flame trees of Thika and Out of Africa are the only similar Bookhound reads ever), but thanks to a loan from a friend I was surprised to find how enchanted and moved I was by this. Inspiring.


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