Today I learned of an incredible man with an incredible story. His name is Lawrence Anthony but he was known as “the Elephant Whisperer.” We lost Anthony last March 2012 but since I just learned of his life I wanted to take the time to share what I’ve learned with the rest of you.

Lawrence was born Johannesburg, South Africa in 1950 and grew up loving the natural world. He ultimately decided he would dedicate his life to conservation. He bought the Thula Thula game reserve, spread over 5,000-acre in KwaZulu-Natal, in the early 1990s. A pivotal point in his career came when he was called upon by a conservation group to rescue a group of nine elephants who had escaped their enclosure and were wreaking havoc across KwaZulu-Natal – and were about to be shot. Lawrence rushed to the scene and tried to communicate with the matriarch of the herd through the tone of his voice and body language. He eventually rescued them and brought them back to his reserve. After that, he was known as “the elephant whisperer.”

In the following years, he established a conservation group, The Earth Organization in 2003, and his efforts lead to the establishment of two new reserves, the Royal Zulu Biosphere in Zululand and the Mayibuye Game Reserve in Kwa Ximba, aimed at providing local tribe people income through wildlife tourism. He also published a book called The Elephant Whisperer (in addition to two other books) highlighting his private focus to rehabilitate traumatized African elephants.

It’s no surprise, then, that when Lawrence passed away the elephants he had once rescued and cared for proceeded to march to his home out of nowhere. Two herds trudged miles. They stayed there for two days, lingering solemnly around their late friend’s rural compound on the vast Thula Thula game reserve.

According to Anthony’s son, Dylan, both arrived at the Anthony family compound shortly after Anthony’s death.“They had not visited the house for a year and a half and it must have taken them about 12 hours to make the journey,” Dylan is quoted in various local news accounts. “The first herd arrived on Sunday and the second herd, a day later. They all hung around for about two days before making their way back into the bush.”Elephants have long been known to mourn their dead. In India, baby elephants often are raised with a boy who will be their lifelong “mahout.” The pair develop legendary bonds – and it is not uncommon for one to waste away without a will to live after the death of the other.

But how did they know that Anthony had died? “A good man died suddenly,” says Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, Ph.D., “and from miles and miles away, two herds of elephants, sensing that they had lost a beloved human friend, moved in a solemn, almost ‘funereal’ procession to make a call on the bereaved family at the deceased man’s home.”

“If there ever 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’s stops, and hundreds of elephants’ hearts are grieving. This man’s oh-so-abundantly loving heart offered healing to these elephants, and now, they came to pay loving homage to their friend.”

Obviously, this was truly a remarkable man. I encourage anyone interested to check out his book The Elephant Whisperer since I will be doing the same!

Listen to Anthony’s wife discuss the elephants in mourning here:

More on his story:

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