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The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild (2009)

by Lawrence Anthony, Graham Spence

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Elephant Whisperer (1)

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5153235,730 (4.27)58
It had been nearly a century since elephants had lived in Southern Zululand, South Africa, where Lawrence Anthony founded his Thula Thula wildlife reserve. Yet one day a phone call changed all that. A troubled, unpredictable herd needed a new home. In order to save their lives, Lawrence took them in, and in the years that followed found that they had a lot to teach him about life, loyalty, and freedom. He tells of hair-raising fights with poachers, of elephants as surprise dinner guests, of raising a baby elephant in his home, and other stories.--From publisher description.… (more)

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The Elephant Whisper by Lawrence Anthony

First off, understand that the title of this book is highly misleading. This story is actually a balance of wondrous and woeful perspective of the reality of physical life, especially in the latter chapters, depicted through fascinating experiences. There is a powerful, elemental message threaded through this writing about all life forms journeying together, connected, and dependent on each other for existence, which includes humans. If strong emotions aren't aroused, then I suspect the reader may be blinded by their human bubble and/or have a heart of stone.

"In our noisy cities we tend to forget the things our ancestors knew on a gut level: that the wilderness is alive, that its whispers are there for all to hear – and to respond to."

"Living rough in the wilderness is a salve for the soul. Ancient instincts awaken; forgotten skills are relearned, consciousness is sharpened and life thrums at a richer tempo."

"Under the microscope, living organisms are just a soup of chemicals and minerals. But what about what the microscope doesn’t see? That life force, the vital ingredient of existence – from an acacia to an elephant – can it be quantified?

"My herd showed me that it can. That understanding and generosity of spirit is alive and well in the pachyderm kingdom; that elephants are emotional, caring and extremely intelligent; and that they value good relations with humans.

"This is their story. They taught me that all life forms are important to each other in our common quest for happiness and survival. That there is more to life than just yourself, your own family, or your own kind."

The story can be seen in one vein as the age old struggle between the primal savagery of trigger happy men killing for the thrill of it, and wiser minds trying to protect wildlife, knowing humankind's future is at stake. It perplexes me how our blinkered cognitive processes exhibit such vagaries, even though knowing of the fickleness of evolution's trials and the influences of subjective experiences.

"It was something I simply couldn’t fathom … what type of person would shoot a terrified teenage elephant, and a female at that? For a tawdry fireside trophy? For the pleasure of the kill? And what kind of reserve owner would hawk a vulnerable young animal for such a reason?"

The message comes through loud and clear, that to truly protect any life form is to protect all by living in respectful coexistence with all life forms in the natural world model of life fueled by life. In such, death and the recycling of essential elements is a necessary precursor to new life in Earth's closed system of physical life.

"Death is an integral part of life. This is the dominant bush reality and I like it that way. It’s natural, uncluttered by materialism or artificial ethics and it helps me to maintain a wholesome perspective of my own existence and that of my friends and family."

Yet, in this book I was also amazed by the cognitive processes of the wildlife, especially the elephants. Whatever the explanations, it is beyond doubt that these creatures have senses far superior to ours, and more acute life forces. What have we lost in our human bubble?

"We also have to understand that there are things we cannot understand. Elephants possess qualities and abilities well beyond the means of science to decipher. Elephants cannot repair a computer, but they do have communication, physical and metaphysical, that would make Bill Gates’s mouth drop open. In some very important ways they are ahead of us."

Lest one get the wrong idea, reading this story is definitely not wading through didactical musings. It is for the most part presented as an engrossing adventure in an edge of the seat manner. Could you retain your cool with a charging bull elephant bearing down on you, or for that manner on finding yourself face to face with a black mamba, or even confront poachers that would happily shoot you? What is depicted are varying mesmerizing situations the author has experienced that the reader may glean the relevance of. The occasional opining is hardly noticed as such.

"Every wild thing is in tune with its surroundings, awake to its fate and in absolute harmony with the planet. Their attention is focused 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."

In closing I should note that in March of 2012 the author Lawrence Anthony passed away. As reported by the CBC on July 25, 2012, "After his death, although they were not alerted to the event, a group of wild elephants Anthony helped to rescue and rehabilitate travelled to his house in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. They stood around the house in an apparent vigil for two days, and then dispersed. Today, the elephants are 'completely wild and doing fine' according to Graham Spence, Anthony's brother-in-law and co-author of three books."

The imaginative concoctions of too much of storytelling these days don't elicit anyway near the real life emotional swings and metaphysical aspects inherent in this book.

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” ― Henry David Thoreau ( )
  LGCullens | Jun 1, 2021 |
I loved reading The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony. I loved reading this book and I could barely put it down! There are many different aspects that I loved about this book, however the main thing I loved about the book was the topic and the way it was written. Since both of my parents are from South Africa, I have a deep love for the country and for safari animals. I think this really helped me understand the book and be able to visualize it easier. Also, the way that Lawrence Anthony wrote the book was really amazing. The way that he described all of the different events that happened really makes the reader feel like they were there. He added so much detail and description about everything. An example of this is, “It was spring again and the landscape sparkled in emerald and jade hues animated by the radiant colors of birds, flowers and trees” (p. 253). This was the first sentence of chapter 29 and it really set the scene and brought the book to life. Another aspect I loved was that the book included a few pages of pictures in the middle of the book. By actually seeing the elephants that he saved, it brought so much more meaning to the book. I absolutely loved reading The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony. ( )
  jflaks1 | May 3, 2020 |
What a fun book!. Well worth the time. Read through it in a weekend. Author has a great story to tell and tells it well. I was wondering how they made money to keep the place running, and not 2 pages later in the book we got an explanation. Just an amazing story about living in wilderness with some majestic animals. Really sounds like a place I'd like to visit and hang with Mr. Anthony. ( )
  bermandog | Mar 29, 2020 |
Such an incredible story. Parts of it broke my heart, but I have a soft spot for anything with animals. The connection he has with the rescued elephant herd is a powerful thing. I appreciated that he never forgets they are powerful animals, even when they are close. He treated them with respect and his bond with them was strong. There were some powerful scenes, like seeing the crippled baby elephant with its mother and watching him decide how to deal with a rogue elephant he was close to. ( )
  bookworm12 | Nov 15, 2019 |
Lawrence Anthony owns a wildlife reserve in Africa. One day he gets a call offering him a herd of problem elephants that are escape artists. If he does not agree to take the herd, they will be killed. Lawrence agrees and begins an adventure of getting the herd to trust people again while retaining their wild nature. I loved this book. I love reading about animal conservation. I liked reading about what goes into running a nature preserve in Africa. The information about the animals was interesting and kept my interest, but I really I liked reading about how the author worked with the local Zulu neighbors. Not only did I learn a lot about elephants and other animals on the reserve, but I also learned a lot about Africa. I will definitely read more books by Lawrence Anthony. ( )
  Cora-R | Jul 10, 2019 |
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Anthony, Lawrenceprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Spence, Grahammain authorall editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It had been nearly a century since elephants had lived in Southern Zululand, South Africa, where Lawrence Anthony founded his Thula Thula wildlife reserve. Yet one day a phone call changed all that. A troubled, unpredictable herd needed a new home. In order to save their lives, Lawrence took them in, and in the years that followed found that they had a lot to teach him about life, loyalty, and freedom. He tells of hair-raising fights with poachers, of elephants as surprise dinner guests, of raising a baby elephant in his home, and other stories.--From publisher description.

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Book description
When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of 'rogue' elephants on his Thula Thula game reserve in South Africa, his commonsense told him to refuse. But he was the herd's last chance of survival - notorious escape artists, they would all be killed if Lawrence wouldn't take them. He agreed, but before arrangements for the move could be completed the animals broke out again and the matriarch and her baby were shot. The remaining elephants were traumatised, dangerous, and very angry. As soon as they arrived at Thula Thula they started planning their escape...As Lawrence battled to create a bond with the elephants and save them from execution, he came to realise that they had a lot to teach him about life, loyalty and freedom. Set against the background of life on the reserve, with unforgettable characters and exotic wildlife, this is a delightful book that will appeal to animal lovers everywhere.
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