South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of 'rogue' elephants for his Thula Thula game reserve in Kwa-Zulu Natal. This moving book is the story of what happened, when, against what he thought was his better judgement, he said yes.
When Anthony and his wife Francoise took over the game reserve, they banned hunting and worked with the local communities to create an eco-friendly lodge set within a reserve dedicated to conserving the beautiful wildlife of the area. They had to overcome problems with poaching, much of it small scale, but at times large scale poaching threatened the larger animals such as rhinos and elephants.
When the elephants first arrived at the reserve, they were destructive and unpredictable. Anthony decided that he would live with the herd for a while to let them get used to him, so they would learn to trust humans. Eventually, the herd did learn to trust him - the females would even bring their newborn calves to be introduced to him. One particularly elephant, Mnumzane, a young male, became particularly friendly with Anthony and his story is a particularly moving one and poses the question of what do you do with an elephant with extreme toothache?
The book highlights the amazing intelligence of elephants including an occasion when one of the older females opened the gate to a compound where a herd of antelope were being gathered, prior to being sold to another game reserve. All the antelopes escaped.
Anthony always geared his planning to the needs of the wildlife and included local people in his project, employing many of them as rangers or within the eco-lodge. I particularly noted this insight:
"Every wild thing is in tune with its surroundings.... and in absolute harmony with the planet. Their attention is focussed totally outwards. Humans, on the other hand, tend to focus introspectively on their own lives too often, brooding and magnifying problems that the animal kingdom would not waste a millisecond of energy upon. To most people, the magnificent order of the natural world where life and death actually mean something has become unrecognizable."
Anthony made friends with the original herd so that they could become used to humans, as they had been mistreated in the past. However, he was determined that future members of the herd would be truly wild and interacted less and less with each following generation of elephants.
This book was published in 2009. Anthony died in 2012 and the elephants travelled many miles to gather round his body, without there having been any way that they could have known he had died. Francoise has continued to run Thula Thula.