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The Elephant Whisperer: My Life With the Herd in the African Wild by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence: Book Review Essay Part 5: Memorable Moments

 Memorable Moments

  • First Encounter Initiated by the Elephants, As Nana and Baby Mandla Stood at the Boma Fence.

“…suddenly I felt sheathed in a sense of contentment. Despite standing just a pace from this previously foul-tempered wild animal who until now would have liked nothing better than to kill me, I had never felt safer. I remained in a bubble of well-being, completely entranced by the magnificent creature towering over me. I noticed for the first time her thick wiry eyelashes, the thousands of wrinkles criss-crossing her skin and her broken tusk. Her soft eyes pulled me in.”

“Then, almost in slow motion, I saw her gently reach out to me with her trunk. I watched, hypnotized, as if this was the most natural thing in the world… Suddenly I realized that if Nana got hold of me it would all be over. I would be yanked through the fence like a rag doll and stomped flat.”

“Yet …once more Nana reached out with her trunk and then I got it. She wanted me to come closer… she gently touched me. I was surprised at the wetness of her trunk tip and how musky her smell was. After a few moments I lifted my hand and felt the top of her colossal trunk, briefly touching the bristly hair fibres.”

And then “the instant was over.” But before Nana rejoined her elephant herd, who had observed this encounter from less than “twenty yards away”, she briefly paused and gazed back at him. THAT IS THE MOMENT Lawrence Anthony made the decision to let them out. Let them free from the boma. Nana the Matriarch had built a trust with “one human”.  And that human was Lawrence Anthony.  p. 85-87


Image: CC Flickr fyre mael:  elephant observed as Nana the Matriarch by photographer. Thula Thula Elephants : The Elephant Whisperer, Lawrence Anthony’s elephants


ch.19 “Somehow I had become aware that elephants project their presence into an area around them, and that they have control over this, because when they didn’t want to be found I could be almost on top of them and pick up nothing at all… the herd’s deep rumblings, well below human hearing, were permeating the bush for miles around them, and I was somehow picking this up even though I couldn’t hear it at all. They were letting everything and everyone know where they were in their own elephantine way, in their own language.”

ch.19 “They (the elephants) determined the emotional tone of any encounter.”   “…My attention turned to Mnumzane and then it dawned that he had chosen me for company over his own kind. That was why he had trumpeted out telling me to wait as I drove past, which is why he wouldn’t let me leave. …Every now and again he would lift his massive head and unfurl his trunk at me, sniffing to make sure I was still there.” Related: “A Woodland Meeting With Mnumzane in the Landy” in Elephant Speak Part 6



  • 23 Re: Walkabouts With the Elephants Taking baby elephant steps towards Thula Thula’s “walking safaris”. (Never try this with a wild elephant or with any wildlife)

“…Through trial and error I learned that the herd set a very real albeit invisible boundary inside of which nothing- well, no human any way – could enter.  …However, it was trial and error, and you had to be able to gauge it by judging the elephant’s demeanor and every elephant’s space was different and could be different on different days.

“…Generally a bull would tolerate closer intrusions than females” because of the bulls’ confidence to defend themselves. As such, smaller elephants being less confident, “demanded” a wider space. And don’t even think of approaching a mother elephant or her calf.  It wouldn’t take much longer before Lawrence discovered that, outside of him, “…the boundary with a stranger was much, much wider”.

“The key was patience…although tedious, this was an intensely tense procedure and I was constantly ready to dash off at a hair-trigger’s notice.” Then Nana “…shrank the no-go boundary by half without even looking up at me. A little later Frankie and the others joined her. Then it dawned. As far as the herd was concerned, the boundary was not set in stone. They will reset it – but only when they are good and ready. It has to be their decision. You can’t do it. Only they can.”

What Lawrence learned, “…another important rule in associating with wild elephants, …is never to approach them directly, but rather put yourself in their vicinity and if they want to, they will come closer to you. If not, forget it: they take their imperial status most seriously.”


Image: CC Flickr: fyre mael: two members of the Thula Thula elephant herd : The Elephant Whisperer, Lawrence Anthony’s elephants


Lawrence’s first walkabout encounter with Nana and Mvula left him awestruck, to say the least.

(“To this day I don’t know how I managed not to bolt.”)   “…So this was how she communicated … with her eyes, trunk, stomach rumblings, subtle body movements, and of course her attitude. And then suddenly I got it. She was trying to get through to me – and like an idiot I hadn’t been responding at all!  I looked pointedly at her and said ‘thank you’…”, she instantly responded… p. 193-195

“… I had at last grasped that the essence of communicating with any animal…is not so much the reach as the acknowledgement. In the animal kingdom communication is a two-way flow…it’s as simple as that.” “…Attitude, facial expressions (believe me elephants can smile beautifully) and body language (& tone of voice) can also be significant.”

“I had now learned another important lesson. Previously traumatized wild elephants appeared to regain a degree of faith in new humans once the matriarch has established trust with just one new human. But it must be the matriarch.”  p. 198

“Now, thanks to Nana, guests could walk in the wild near these magnificent creatures, an experience to be savored for a lifetime.”


Image: CC Flickr: fyre mael: Thula Thula elephants    The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence


ch. 5 Lawrence Anthony, having already formed “a bond” with his “delinquent elephant herd…during a desperate three-day chase”, (after their escape from Thula Thula, their new home) conveying how going against conventional wisdom (siding with the elephants, per se) regarding wild elephants, in general, & rogue elephant herds, in particular (his new elephant herd), was expressly frowned upon:

“…despite fashionable eco-tourism, elephants didn’t really count for much in the real world. This was a group of desperate and bewildered animals who had been on the run. But to the brandy and bullets brigade they were target practice with a yield of ivory; to the local tribesman they were a threat.”

No one gave a fig that these were sentient creatures whose ancestors had roamed the planet for eons. “….In Africa today elephants are simply competitors in the race for the land. In the West, they are more curiosities while the East values only their ivory.” p. 53


Image: CC Flickr: fyre mael: Thula Thula elephant: The Elephant Whisperer, Lawrence Anthony’s elephants



p. 314 “Their persistence was absolutely phenomenal. The Marines have a saying ‘leave no one behind’, but these elephants could even have taught them a thing or two.” p. 315 “…They had been on wilderness ER for more than twenty-four hours without drink or rest. Few humans could match that.”

p. 324 Baby Elephant Thula’s Close Call While out on walkies in the lodge area with Lawrence Anthony & Biyela  Thula is almost discovered by her sentient elephant herd :    “They drew level a few minutes later and Nana’s trunk shot up like a periscope, the tip switching until she fixated on where Thula had just ambled out of sight behind a hedge of wild strelitzia. She turned, her stomach rumbling. Nandi and Frankie joined her, scenting the air, analyzing floating molecules Thula had left behind. They were like detectives at a crime scene and eased forward just inches from the electric wire.”

ch. 2 Re: The electric fence enclosing the game reserve: “…energizers pack an 8,000-volt punch….the shock is not fatal as the amperage is extremely low. But believe me, it is excruciating, even to an elephant with an inch-thick hide.”

ch. 40 p. 353 “He had gone to join his mother whose violent death just before he came to Thula Thula he never really recovered from.”

“These things always seem to happen in threes” p. 354



 To be continued: The Elephant Whisperer: My Life With the Herd in the African Wild by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence: Book Review Essay Part 6: Elephant Speak

Purchase The Elephant Whisperer: My Life With the Herd in the African Wild by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence through The Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization  “Purchasing the book from us, LAEO, helps forward the work we are doing to achieve the goals that Lawrence envisioned.” See Lawrence Anthony’s Elephants 


Image: CC dl edu: The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence



The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony & Graham Spence  wiki 

The Elephant Whisperer book cover (baby elephant II)  CC Flickr

CC Flickr Fyre Mael Elephants Thula Thula group 2


Image: Wikipedia.  book: The Elephant Whisperer My Life With the Herd in the African Wild by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence

One thought on “The Elephant Whisperer: My Life With the Herd in the African Wild by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence: Book Review Essay Part 5: Memorable Moments

  1. Pingback: The Elephant Whisperer: My Life With the Herd in the African Wild by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence: Book Review Essay Part 4 : Don’t Miss This | Elephant Spoken Here

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