Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Terrific Book for Elephant Lovers

And you know who you are.

Yes, we're the folks whose ears perk up when someone says, "Have you heard about this elephant...?"

Since I had my time in Kenya - and got to know the elephants there pretty well - I've enjoyed writing about my experiences and sharing photos and commentary from time to time.

Recently, on the recommendation of another member of the "thinking-about-elephants-a-lot" gang, I had the delicious opportunity to explore The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild by Lawrence Anthony.

It's a beautiful story, about a man whose life was built around animal conservation and who, when asked to take care of a herd of rogue wild elephants that had been causing problems at another private game reserve, he couldn't say "no." His Thula Thula game reserve in Zululand didn't have any elephants - they had left that part of Africa about a century ago - and even though he knew it would be a challenge to work with these troublesome wide animals, he took them on.

He worked very carefully to get to know the animals, and - more important - to have them get to know him. And trust him. He was eventually able to create a very special relationship with the animals - not all of them, as some of them (one in particular) had been badly damaged in previous interactions with humans. Nevertheless, the story Anthony tells - with co-author Graham Spence - is a story worth telling. There's humor, sensitivity, and, yes, a couple of "bonding" situations that remind me of my experience in the Kenya in Summer 2013, which you probably read about (if you didn't it's here).

Much is made in the book of the sensitivity of the elephants and their ability to understand things that we human beings don't usually expect animals to understand.

And one example of the elephants' sensitivity is the fact that they are known to mourn, so one of the interesting stories about Anthony's work and his death has to do with the animals coming to mourn him when he died. There are a number of versions of the story, and I happen to like the one told at a site called "The Delight Makers" (no, I had not heard of it either).

The story - Wild Elephants Gather Inexplicably, Mourn Death of "Elephant Whisperer - is sweetly told and gives a good picture of how animals deal with some of the same situations we humans are confronted with. I loved reading this description (just as I loved reading the book - in reading it and not knowing that Anthony had died just a couple of years ago, I felt a wonderful closeness to this fine man). I didn't so much love the advocacy message of the text of the film - but why would I, as I know nothing about the organization? - but the photography is splendid and made me anxious to head back to Kenya to visit my elephants.

So I recommend the book. It moves fast, and you get the feeling you're getting to know Lawrence Anthony well as you read the book. As well as the many interesting people with whom he is called upon to deal with (both positively and - ahem - some with some difficulty) during the course of the story. If you like reading about elephants. you're going to love this one.