Elephants Remember the Man Who Saved Them

They say elephants never forget. These elephants of Thula Thula are proving that adage by celebrating the life of Lawrence Anthony, the beloved wildlife conservationist from South Africa, who adopted and rehabilitated them.

Lawrence Anthony was a beloved wildlife conservationist from South Africa, known throughout the world as “The Elephant Whisperer”—a nickname he earned after adopting and rehabilitating a herd of wild elephants on his game reserve, Thula Thula.

In 2012, Lawrence suffered a fatal heart attack. Two days later, his wife, Françoise Malby Anthony, witnessed something incredible. The elephants of Thula Thula appeared outside her home in a solemn procession to pay tribute to Lawrence, a moving story Françoise told in the December/January 2016 issue of Mysterious Ways magazine.

Here, Françoise shares some behind-the-scenes photos and stories about Lawrence, the elephants and the mysterious force that connects all living things.

Guideposts: Elephants at a watering hole

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“I’ve always had a bit of a sense of adventure, and for me it was a little bit of a dream come true,” Françoise said about leaving her native France and following Lawrence to South Africa in 1987. 

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Guideposts: Françoise Malby Anthony with her late husband, Lawrence.

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Françoise met Lawrence on a taxi queue in London, where they were both on business. The concierge asked Françoise if she’d mind sharing a cab with Lawrence. She took one look at Lawrence and said no. But they ran into each other again and ended up chatting. “That’s how it happens,” Françoise said. “A year later, I landed in South Africa!” 

Guideposts: George, an adorable, hungry, bushbaby who resides at Thula Thula

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In 1998, Lawrence and Françoise bought Thula Thula, a historic game reserve in Zululand, South Africa. Today, Thula Thula is home to wildlife like white rhinos, zebras and George, this adorable hungry bushbaby.

Guideposts: Two unlikely animals forge a friendship at Thula Thula

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“We witness every day on the game reserve amazing phenomena that science can’t explain,” Françoise said. 

Guideposts: Françoise poses with a rhinocerous

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“Lawrence used to say that we can all connect with animals, every single human being,” Françoise said, “if you take the time and have the patience to do so.”

Guideposts: a herd of wild elephants who Lawrence adopted when they were about to be put to death

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In 1999, Lawrence famously adopted a herd of nine wild elephants about to be put to death. He knew nothing about elephants and they were prone to escaping. But Lawrence was determined. “He couldn’t imagine leaving this herd,” Françoise said. “They were traumatized and didn’t trust humans at all.”

Guideposts: Françoise, riding in the back of an open jeep, comes upon an elephant on the road

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Eventually, the herd came to call Thula Thula home. “They felt the love from Lawrence and the attention and care,” Françoise said. “They did get an understanding that Lawrence was there to save them.”

Guideposts: Lawrence reaches out to gently caress one of the elephants he rescued

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Lawrence essentially became one of the herd. “He found a lot of happiness and serenity with them,” Françoise said. “He talked to them and they were very gentle with him. They listened to him. They used to come to him with their trunks. It was quite spectacular.”

Guideposts: The elephants Lawrence rescued pause on a path at his game reserve

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Lawrence was humble about his bond with the herd, though. According to Françoise, “He’d say, ‘I’m not an elephant whisperer, I’m an elephant listener. I listen to them. They talk to me if they want to. If they don’t want to, I don’t insist.”

Guideposts: Françoise and Lawrence pose with two of the workers on the game reserve

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On March 2, 2012, Lawrence passed away from a heart attack while on business in Johannesburg. “The news fell on Thula Thula like a bomb,” Françoise said. “I was numb, completely numb. I had my feet on the ground, but I was somewhere else.” 

Guideposts: The elephants Lawrence loved filed by in a procession on the day of his memorial service

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After Lawrence’s memorial service, the herd appeared outside Françoise and Lawrence’s home on Thula Thula. “The elephants arrived on Sunday, at five o’clock in the afternoon, like a procession,” Françoise said. “They stood around for a few hours. They were waiting. For what?” 

Guideposts: Lawrence's elephants returned to pay tribute to him on the anniversary of his memorial service

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“What’s extraordinary is that a year later, exactly on the same day—the 4th of March, 2013, at five o’clock in the afternoon—they all came back,” Françoise said. “The whole herd. Same thing. They waited and waited.” 

Guideposts: The elephants returned on the same day in 2014 and 2015

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In fact, they returned on the same day in 2014 and 2015, as well. “Some people could interpret it as just coincidence. How could it be coincidence four years in a row?” Françoise said. “The elephants come back to pay their respects. To show they haven’t forgotten.”

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Guideposts: Lawrence gazes at his beloved elephants on the game reserve

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For Françoise, it’s proof that some things in this world just can’t be explained by reason. “He was one of them,” she said. “Those elephants took Lawrence on a spiritual adventure.” 

Thula Thula continues its work today.

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