March 12

The Life & Times of Lawrence Anthony, Elephant Whisperer


March 12, 2012

Lawrence Anthony was the elephant whisperer, the Indiana Jones of Conservation, a wildlife guru. He made an impact as an international conservationist, environmentalist, explorer at large and bestselling author. Last week, he died of a heart attack age 61. He will forever be remembered as a true pioneer of wildlife conservation.

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and raised in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, Lawrence Anthony was the owner of the 2 000-hectare Thula Thula Game Reserve in Zululand in KwaZulu Natal. He and his wife, Françoise, both lived there for many years with their family.

Read more about our experience of Thula Thula and the magical owners Lawrence and Françoise in our blog, Talking to the Elephant Whisperer.

Lawrence Anthony
Larger-than-life conservationist, Lawrence Anthony

Conservation Successes

Lawrence was involved with conservation projects with remote African tribes on their traditional land, which he believed was necessary to the future of African conservation. He created two game reserves in South Africa – the Royal Zulu Biosphere in Zululand, which is expanding to join the world-famous Umfolozi Hluhluwe Reserve, and Mayibuye Game Reserve in Kwa Ximba.

As the founder of South African environmental group, the Earth Organisation, Lawrence persuaded the Lord’s Resistance rebel army in Southern Sudan – leaders of which are wanted for war crimes by the international criminal court – to raise awareness of the environment and protect endangered species, including the Northern White Rhinoceros. Only four of these rhinos are believed to remain in the wild. Read more about Lawrence’s courageous work on The Guardian website.

Watch the CNN video about Lawrence:

Lawrence The Writer

  • The Elephant Whisperer

Lawrence worked closely with African elephants and adopted a wild and traumatised elephant herd to live at Thula Thula. He developed a unique relationship with this wild herd, which you can read more about in his book, The Elephant Whisperer.

An excerpt from our previous blog on Lawrence:

While feasting on chicken with chilli chocolate sauce and a sensational impala pie, Lawrence chatted to me about his latest book The Elephant Whisperer. Lawrence was asked to accept a herd of ‘rogue’ elephants on to the reserve at Thula Thula – 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 and very angry. As soon as they arrived at Thula Thula they started planning their escape… into the waiting guns. As Lawrence battled to create a bond with the elephants and save them from execution, he came to realise that the fascinating creatures had a lot to teach him about love, loyalty and freedom. This is stirring stuff folks.

Books by Lawrence Anthony

  • Babylon’s Ark

Lawrence is the man who saved the Baghdad Zoo during the Iraq War. Once the biggest zoo in the Middle East, Baghdad Zoo was badly hit by the war – it was bombed, animals were looted for food and caged animals starved to death. Lawrence set off on a private rescue initiative, using mercenaries and zoo keepers to protect the zoo, along with the US Army soldiers, Iraqi civilians and other volunteers he recruited. Eventually he brought the zoo back to life and it was reopened.

Read more in Lawrence’s book Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo.

Thula Thula Game Reserve

Awards and recognitions

  • The Global Nature Fund, Living Lakes Best Conservation Practice Award, for “A remarkable contribution to nature conservation and environmental protection.”
  • He received the Earth Day medal at the UN for his work and was decorated with the US Army 3rd Infantry Division regimental medal for his bravery. for his rescue of the Baghdad Zoo
  • The Earth Trustee Award
  • The Rotary International Paul Harris Fellowship for outstanding contribution to the ideals of Rotary.
  • The IAS Freedom Medal
  • The Umhlatuzi Mayoral Award for Outstanding Community Service
  • International membership, the Explorers Club of New York
  • At a presentation in Washington, DC in 2009, international journalist Tom Clynes named Lawrence among his six most impressive and influential people in a lifetime of reporting, a list that included names such as Sir Edmund Hillary.
Thula Thula Game Reserve
Thula Thula Game Reserve

In the words of Lawrence Anthony

  • “I have never understood the saying ‘To think outside the box.’ Why would anyone sit inside of a box and then think outside of it. Rather just get out of the box.”
  • “There is more to life than just yourself, your own family, and your own kind.”
  • “I don’t think I have a mission in life. I just want to hold together the values that are important to us as human beings. The name of the game is to survive, and we can’t survive without the plant and animal kingdoms.”
  • “Our inability to think beyond our own species, or to be able to co-habit with other life forms in what is patently a massive collaborative quest for survival, is surely a malady that pervades the human soul.”
  • “The green movement has become tainted with extremism and intemperance resulting in lack of credibility. It needs new direction, new priorities and new leadership.”
  • “Workable solutions for Earth are urgently needed. Saving seals and tigers, or fighting yet another oil pipeline through a wilderness area, while laudable, is merely shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
  • “Man’s cultural and traditional links to nature that used to be passed down, generation to generation, have become lost in a sea of ‘civilization’, bureaucracy and technology.”
  • “Thankfully the Earth has an incredible capacity to sustain life, so perhaps something can still be done about it.”

Gala dinner details

Lawrence died before the gala dinner he had planned to hold in March this year to raise international awareness of rhino-poaching. At the event he was also going to launch his new book, The Last Rhinos. The event will, however, go ahead on 29 March at the ICC in Durban. Details are:

  • Date: 29 March 2012
  • Venue: ICC Durban
  • Time: 6pm for 6:30pm
  • Cost: R600 per person; R6000 per table of 10
  • Bookings & info: or 082 378 2264

Lawrence will be missed but he leaves behind an elephant-sized legacy which will continue through the work he started and the lives he touched. Hamba kahle, Lawrence Anthony, Elephant Whisperer.



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About the author 

Tamlin Wightman

Tamlin has been exploring, writing about and photographing Africa ever since her first job as a photojournalist for Getaway Magazine. She's lived on an island, eaten with lions, sailed catamarans in the Indian Ocean, tracked wild dogs with Kinglsey Holgate, and white water rafted down the Zambezi and has kept just about every airplane ticket that has crossed her hands.

  • We’ve just heard that the function on March 29 in Durban at the ICC will go ahead to celebrate his life as a great conservationist and also for the release of his third book “The Last Rhinos”.

  • I live in New Mexico, USA.  I hope that the efforts of this man, the people who have caught the spark and share the vision he enjoyed will rise up and protect the incredible wildlife and the heritage of the peoples of Africa.  It is my fondest hope to one day visit this country.  To feel and see the living wonders the belong there.  My kindest regards to all peoples involved in the saving and conservation of the continent.

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