Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Book Review ‘The Elephant Whisperer’ – if only all nonfiction books were this readable

A friend of mine gifted this book to our son, and I decided to pick it up after he read and reviewed it. I can see why the book remains a must-read for wildlife enthusiasts.

My Book Review

The story begins with Lawrence Anthony getting a call from Marion of “Elephant Managers and Owners Association” offering Thula Thula, his fledgling game reserve, a herd of 8-9 wild elephants. He had recently taken over Thula Thula and was getting his feet wet in the operations of a game reserve and naturally, Anthony is skeptical. He wonders about the ‘catch’ and Marion explains how this was a herd of ‘Rogue elephants’ that had broken out of the previous reserve and damaged crops nearby and the owners were looking for a way out. She muses that the herd would have to be “put down” if a new reserve didn’t accept them immediately.

While Anthony is thrilled at the prospect of bringing wild elephants back to his part of Zululand, he has mixed feelings about taking on this elephantine task. He must rush to electrify the fencing around 20-square miles of Thula Thula before the arrival of the herd.

The drama begins, and we are hooked.

The chapters flow seamlessly one after the other taking us into the heart of Zululand in South Africa, with the trails and tribulations of life in the bushes. The journey includes glimpses into the Zulu culture and healthy respect for the local environment which is a way of life. We share Anthony’s despair over the death of a newborn and are left cheering when he finally learns to whisper to the rogue elephants musing how “Elephants can smile beautifully.”

The Elephants are the central characters, but the story is not just about them. It is about Zululand and the life in the bushes. The risks are inherent in the operations of a game reserve, and it is not the odd rogue elephant or wild beast. Poachers, the Cattle Cabal, and the odd inept game wardens seem to do immense harm to the functioning of the carefully curated reserve.

The chapters include brief glimpses into the ‘business’ of running a large game reserve – providing jobs to the locals, opening up high-end lodging and fine-dinging for visitors, hiring and firing rangers, and entertaining VIPs and dealing with government officials and local bureaucracy. And the business is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Waking up at 2 AM awaiting a truck with arrivals, or dealing with ‘mini emergencies’ like the bite of a Black Mamba or flooding of the dam and rivers during rainstorms are par for the course.

Anthony and his co-authors are master story tellers. His first-person narrative style tries hard to make it about his beloved reserve, where he is merely the sherpa.

Footnote: Lawrence Anthony died several years ago but his French wife stayed back at Thula Thula

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