the elephant whisperer

THE SUGAR MAN

This story may be the reason why I chose to read The Guardians by Sarah Manguso.

Last year I watched the excelent documentary Searching for Sugar Man. It has become the only major work of a strikingly talented film-maker, Malik Bendjelloul. He committed suicide back at home in Sweden. He was thirty-six, and working on a project based on the conservationist Lawrence Anthony’s book The Elephant Whisperer.

In 2006, an aspiring young documentary maker called Malik Bendjelloul left his job at Swedish state TV and went to Africa in search of material for his first feature. He eventually found himself in Cape Town, where a record store owner told him the story of Sixto Rodriguez, a brilliant Mexican-American singer-songwriter whose two albums, released in the early 1970s, had unexpectedly bombed in the US — but, by some magic, later found an audience in apartheid South Africa, where they sold hundreds of thousands of copies. As a consequence, Rodriguez became more popular than Elvis in the country, and inspired a generation of anti-establishment songwriters.

For years, the store owner explained, listeners in South Africa had presumed that Rodriguez was dead: apartheid censorship laws meant that information about him was scant, and rumours circulated that he’d committed suicide on stage somewhere in America. But then, in the late 1990s, a resourceful South African music journalist called Craig Bartholomew-Strydom started digging — and made an astonishing discovery.

It was hardly surprising that Bendjelloul grabbed this story with both hands and set to work turning it into a documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, named after his most famous song and released in 2012. What was surprising, at least to those who didn’t know him, was that this offbeat debut feature – written, directed, edited and co-produced by Bendjelloul – turned out to be a film of such elegance, poignancy and directorial sure-footedness. It was a hit with audiences and won dozens of awards, including the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2013, and seemed to promise Bendjelloul the kind of long, glittering career that had been denied to his subject.

Sadly, this was not to be the case.

Summary of eRumor: This is a forwarded email that alleged that herds of elephants “mysteriously” appeared at the home of Organization Earth Founder Lawrence Anthony and mourned his death in March 2012. The Truth: Reports that two herds of South African elephants that were rescued by wildlife conservationist Lawrence Anthony traveled to his home to pay their respects upon Anthony’s death are true. This according to a March 11, 2012 article by the New York Times. Anthony’s son, Dylan Anthony, told the New York Times that the elephants gathered on the edge of the reserve near his house every night after his death. Anthony was the author of numerous books on wildlife conservation. He also created the 5,000-acre Thula Thula wildlife sanctuary and adopted herds of elephants that would have been killed, according to the New York Times obituary. Elephants have been known to grieve the deaths of friends and relatives. They sometimes stay beside the bodies of loved ones to mourn for up to three full days, according to a January 30, 2013 article by the Daily Mail. #animal #animals

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The Elephant Whisperer

Often science is so overwhelming and so clean-cut that it’s hard to see anything but facts and figures. But there will always be things that we don’t understand and can’t explain, especially in the realms of animal science.

-For Lawrence Anthony.

For those who haven’t read my review of ‘Alex and Me’ by Irene Pepperberg, leave this page now and read that one first.

Are you done? Good.

Thula Thula is a game reserve in the heart of Zululand, South Africa. In 1999 for the first time in century, the area became home to a herd of elephants. These elephants are completely unlike those you see at the zoo. A life of human abuse has pushed this herd to the breaking point. They have all watched as their matriarch and her young calf was shot in from of them. They’ve been abused and they’ve been scared. They break through electric fences, charge any human they see and escape every enclosure. Thula Thula-and more importantly, its owner Lawrence Anthony is the very last chance for these elephants. The deal: either Anthony takes on the traumatised and unruly herd, or they will all be killed.

By slowly gaining the trust of these elephants-in a completely unconventional manner, Anthony is able to rescue the herd. The true nature of elephants, their intelligence and their relationships are more closely observed in this book than I have ever read before. ‘The Elephant Whisperer’ by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence extracts the key moments from Anthony’s life at Thula Thula over a decade or so. There are deaths, births and weddings. Thula Thula and its staff face fire, flood, mutiny, threats from the tribal community, tagati (evil spirits) and the most dangerous predator of all: man.

I really enjoyed reading about Africa and its people in this book. It was and insight into how the tribal community operates, and how important it is to the people. Anthony jokes that the people he hires from the community are pretty hopeless at using the walkie talkies in the park-but then there are aspects of their lives that we would not have even the smallest glimpse of understanding. I think this book would be a good one to read for anyone who is travelling to Africa, or anyone who loves learning about different cultures. It also speaks highly of the beauty of the land.

The defining difference between ‘The Elephant Whisperer’ and ‘Alex and Me’ is that the former is written by a conservationist, not a scientist. I tend to incline more towards the science side of things myself, so I was a little disappointed by the lack of actual facts and research which were so prominent in Alex and Me. Many of the observations made are of a somewhat spiritual nature-i.e., what Anthony feels is happening-as opposed to knowing what is happening. And that’s okay. Often, science is so overwhelming and so clean-cut that it’s hard to see past facts and figures. But there will always be things that we don’t understand and can’t explain, especially in the realms of animal science.

I believe Lawrence Anthony was similar to people like Jane Goodall, Irene Pepperberg and Dian Fossey, but with slightly less science orientation. They’re on the same page, but from a different book. I’ve recently found out that Lawrence Anthony passed away in 2012. Apparently after is death, the elephants from the reserve stood vigil outside his home on the reserve for two days. I am crying as I type this, because just as I’d found a hero, I discovered I’ll never get a chance to meet him.

One day, I will go to Thula Thula. And I will see these elephants. Or their great grandcalves in any case. And I will thank them for inspiring Lawrence Anthony to write The Elephant Whisperer.

If you’re looking for something different, are interested in conservation, culture or animals, this book is definitely one that you should pick up.

Love,

Sarah

For 12 hours, two herds of wild South African elephants slowly made their way through the Zululand bush until they reached the house of late author Lawrence Anthony.They some-how knew he had died on March 7th. He was a conservationist(Also the author of “The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild”) who worked hard to save their lives. They marched for 12 hours and loitered(for 2 days) at Anthony’s rural compound on the vast Thula Thula game reserve in the South African KwaZulu just to say goodbye to their friend. 

Whispers: An Elephant’s Tale Summary:

A nameless baby male elephant was just getting used to life in the herd, when poachers kill his mother, so he runs and gets lost. He’s found by a grouchy female, Groove, the sister of a matriarch, who walks off disgusted with life in her herd. Not exactly wholehearted, she still takes the orphan under her wing, ‘till we find your herd’, but fails to find his herd, or a new home with males -who find him disrespectful and mouthy- or her own herd, which nicknames the kid whispers since his trumpeting is so weak. meanwhile the fear for poachers and (that is, in the movie) lions drives them north over the great river, a long and dangerous journey…

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       The Elephant Whisperer; My Life with the Herd in the African Wild
                        by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence

Lawrence Anthony devoted his life to animal conservation, protecting the world’s endangered species. Then he was asked to accept a herd of “rogue” wild elephants on his Thula Thula game reserve in Zululand. His common sense told him to refuse, but he was the herd’s last chance of survival: they would be killed if he wouldn’t take them. In order to save their lives, Anthony took them in. In the years that followed he became a part of their family. And as he battled to create a bond with the elephants, he came to realize that they had a great deal to teach him about life, loyalty, and freedom. Amazon

I apologize for the very beat up cover of this book, it’s my own personal book and it’s well loved. It’s one of my favourite books ever and I definitely recommend a read.

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“But perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that there are no walls between humans and the elephants except those that we put up ourselves, and that until we allow not only elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.” 
― Lawrence AnthonyThe Elephant Whisperer