The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence
“Learning about life, loyalty and freedom from a remarkable herd of elephants”
The title and its tagline were a bad start. The people who declare themselves as animal ‘whisperers’ are generally those on tv who are pretty good at training domestic dogs or, in all honesty, they’re just a bit coo coo. And the book’s accompanying tagline is enough to make anyone gag. But it was a Christmas present and I felt obliged to read it… how glad I was that I did!
Yes, this book may be anthropomorphic at times. Yes, sometimes the author believed the elephants could understand English. But the story of a man full of passion, wanting to establish a thriving reserve in Africa’s Zululand for the greater good, is beautiful and engaging.
The story concentrates on life at Lawrence Anthony’s game reserve and the introduction of “the definitive symbol of wild Africa”; a herd of elephants. However, it’s not easy and it’s definitely not simple. This herd is troublesome: clever enough to continually break out of their current reserve (lined with electric fencing) and determined enough to do it time and time again.
The book mainly follows the journey of Anthony gaining the herd’s trust and watching his reserve flourish. But what I loved so much about this book is that the word elephant is not seen on every page. Whole chapters are completely devoted to other aspects of running a game reserve and give a great insight into the problems they face: introducing new species whilst controlling invasive ones, dealing with venomous house guests, developing ecotourism, contending with extreme weather, protecting wildlife from poachers, juggling the desires of local tribes and managing the fallout from years of apartheid.
I am so glad that I pushed past my prejudices because I ended up really enjoying this incredible story. Maybe I just need to lighten up a bit, ay?