Book Reviews

Book Review – The Elephant Whisperer


My cousin sent a very moving message over our family’s WhatsApp group that talked of wild elephants paying respects to a conservationist called Lawrence Anthony. Its a surprise that I had never heard of Lawrence Anthony given that both Krishnan and I love animals and have always believed that some of the animals are far more evolved than us human beings especially in the compassion department !

I immediately googled about Lawrence Anthony and saw that he had written a couple of books and one of them was “The Elephant Whisperer”. I immediately bought the book on Kindle and read it through without taking any break. The book was riveting and so connected to the reality of the animal world that I couldn’t stop reading.

The very first page contained these statements – “…. you have to understand that communication in the animal kingdom is as natural as a breeze. ….In our noisy cities we tend to forget the things our ancestors knew on a gut level: that the wilderness is alive, that its whispers are there for all to hear -…” So close to the Hindu philosophy where animals worshipped.

Then in Chapter two – “In the outback, life is lived for the instant. The land thrums with exuberance when everything is green and lush and is stoically resilient when it isn’t.”

The whole story is about a group of wild and troubled elephants led by the matriarch Nana, who are sent to Thula Thula, the game reserve that Lawrence Anthony owned. Its about their initial escapes and then about how he learns to communicate with them. Its fascinating to see how he pitches a tent right outside their enclosure and tries to talk to Nana in a soothing tone.

Chapter five offers this amazing insight “…… elephants possess incredible communication abilities. Its known they emit stomach rumblings at frequencies far below human hearing that can be detected even when they are many miles apart. ” Wowww.

Then in chapter 19 there is an amazing incident where Mnumzane one of the herd members wants to “chat” with Lawrence and just hangs out with him .. like any human friend would. In the same chapter there are a few paragraphs on how elephants communicate over long distances. “When scientist Katy Payne, of the Elephant Listening Project at Cornell University, discovered these elephant sound waves it was a startling breakthroughs, one which would change our entire concept of elephant behaviour. There is a concrete link between advanced congenital intelligence and long-distance communication.”

“…elephants are communicating across vast distances which shows that these giants of the wilderness are far more developed than we ever believed……Evolution is ruthless; anything not essential to survival withers on the gene-pool vine. Thus it is only reasonable to postulate that elephants are using these advanced long-distance frequencies for a specific purpose – to communicate coherently, one to another and herd to herd.”

Thula Thula also struggles with poaching and its fascinating to see how Lawrence Anthony works with the different tribes and their leaders to find solutions. Ofcourse its unimaginable that anyone who calls him/herself a human being can hunt and kill animals, but the world is a strange place. :(:(

In Chapter 28, Lawrence Anthony almost describes meditation and a life of awareness in this paragraph – “Wildlife is perpetually aware, always ready to flee or fight in an instant. Its a life thrumming with eternal vigilance, absorbing every minuscule detail of one’s surroundings, continually assessing degrees of safety and danger.”

And then this classic statement which is so true – “To most people, the magnificent order of the natural world where life and death actually mean something has become unrecognisable.”

The following statements in Chapter 42 sum up life on Earth – “…. the most important lesson I learned is that there are no walls between humans and the elephants except those we put up ourselves, and that until we allow not only elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.” Just beautifully stated.

This book touched me to the core. I have skipped over many interesting incidents like the birth of a wild elephant and how it ends up dying because its legs are unable to support its weight or the side stories with the dogs in the family because they all led to these lessons. The book is aptly titled “The Elephant Whisperer: Learning about life, loyalty and freedom from a remarkable herd of elephants”. Do read it and learn from Lawrence’s experiences because not every one of us can learn from wild elephants !

Lawrence Anthony passed away in 2012… And the very next day the herd led by Nana, came by to his cottage to pay their respects. What an amazing gesture from one we call wild. RIP Lawrence Anthony. I wish we knew about you when we visited South Africa in 2011. Krishnan and I would have certainly spent time at Thula Thula. Hopefully we will get to meet the herd when we visit again.

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