Lawrence Anthony wrote three books. In order they are “Babylon’s Ark”, “The Elephant Whisperer”, and “The Last Rhinos”.
Anthony was a South African conservationist who started his career in the insurance business, moved on to real estate, then more or less in mid-life, he purchased a 5,000 acre nature preserve called Thula Thula. Thula Thula sat on one side of numerous other nature preserves owned by the Zulu, and he made it his life’s work to be able to “drop the fences”, creating one gigantic nature preserve that would come close to creating the kind of space in Africa that wildlife used to enjoy.
The politics of negotiating with the Zulu, as well as with the various competing conservation agencies were mind-boggling. It’s a miracle any animals are left alive in Africa. In between these efforts, he is hands-on taking care of a number of wild species and fighting poachers.
His books are a bit out of order. The Elephant Whisperer should have been first. This was his life’s work, at Thula Thula, and the other two are excursions he made from there. Babylon’s Ark is about saving the Baghdad Zoo, shortly after the U.S. invasion. Once the largest zoo in the Mideast, by the time he got there, there were only 35 animals left. The others had either been blown up, or captured by the locals for food. Some of them had eaten the others.
The Last Rhinos is similar. He learns that the last wild population of Northern White Rhinos is in an abandoned park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been in a civil war for 20 years. There are only 15 animals left, but he knows of 4 captive Northern Whites in a zoo in the Czech Republic. He hopes this will be enough to keep the sub-species viable, though it is highly unlikely. His attitude is, “We have to try”.
I read The Elephant Whisperer last. This is where it all began for Anthony. One of the first things he does is take in a semi-rogue herd of elephants, nine individuals in all. If he doesn’t take them, they will all be shot. He wants them to be wild, but it doesn’t work out. Contrary to popular opinion, he grasps that he must make “friends” with the matriarch, Nana.
As the matriarch goes, so goes the herd. In fits and starts, he does it. He makes friends with Nana’s Deputy Matriarch, Frankie. At night, Frankie is in charge because Nana has developed a cataract in one eye. He makes friends with Mnumzane, the aspiring alpha bull who is really too young for the role at 14.
At last he begins to disengage. More babies are born and the herd is becoming wilder. Yet they seem to have an uncanny sense of when he will return from traveling and gather at the fence to his home compound.
On a lighter note, Anthony introduced me to the word “tokoloshe”. I’m thinking of adopting a little feral kitten, assuming the owner will give him up. That remains to be seen. She was very keen on the idea when he was first born, but now he’s three weeks old and has his eyes open. His mother has moved him to the back porch where he can be picked up and cuddled regularly. My cat (and my dog) are getting old. I’d like to have this little guy. My cat is the most maternal being on the planet, and would make him feel at home. Stormy the current cat would cuddle and groom a mouse if it would stand still long enough.
So if I do get him, I’m naming him Toko, short for Tokoloshe. Tokoloshe is a Zulu word for little demon spirits that come out at night to do mischief. The example Anthony gave is that the Zulu keep their beds up on bricks. If you don’t, the Tokoloshe crawl under your bed at night and jump up and down, just to wake you up. There has never been a better name for a kitten.
But back to Anthony.
In March of 2012, Anthony died of a heart attack at home. That night, and for the next week, the elephant herd silently gathered at the fence before his compound. They knew. You can see this vigil on YouTube.
It doesn’t matter what you ascribe this to–they knew. It’s a phenomenal sense of smell and hearing, but it’s more than that. Somehow there is emotion there. When you see elephants handling the bones of their dead, you know there is something more going on there than we understand.