Regarded as an animal whisperer, Lawrence Anthony has a heart for animals. He is an animal activist that works hard for the welfare of animals; even amongst the turmoil of wars and enemy attacks. Anthony made himself well known during the 2003 invasion in Iraq. While the United States and it’s allies invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, Anthony decided to go to the war-zone area to help save animals at the biggest zoo in the Middle East. His efforts led to his work being publicized abroad.
Here is the story:
In 2003, Anthony heard about the terrible state of the Baghdad Zoo — the biggest zoo in the Middle East — after invasion into Iraq territory by the US and allies. This triggered old memories of him reading childhood books about German zoo’s during the second world war. Thousands of animals died during that time and many of them were eaten. Anthony recalled during the first Gulf war when the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, how the Iraqi soldiers shot and killed the zoo animals.
Anthony was troubled by his thoughts of what might be happening and decided to contact the US about their contingency plans for the Baghdad Zoo. No plans were in place by either the US or Britain. “I couldn’t stand the thought of these magnificent animals dying of hunger and thirst in their cages so far from home. I thought, let me just go, maybe I could do something,” he said and began his journey North.
Anthony arrived with his veterinary supplied pack in his car. He arrived at the zoo and found swarms of flies on the remaining carcasses of animals. Of the 650 animals in the zoo before the invasion, there were only 35 still remaining, many were killed and looters had stolen many others. The 35 animals were in poor condition and seeing their condition made him wonder if they were worth saving. He regretfully learned a giraffe had been eaten by starving Iraqis, a bear escaped and killed some looters, some of the lions escaped and the American soldiers had shot two of them.
Upon arriving, Anthony lost his money, had no food or water. One of the zoo directors came through the war-torn streets to help him. After a few weeks he had the US and Iraqi soldiers putting down their weapons and picking up a shovel to help him. The neighboring Mullahs in the mosques were telling everyone to leave him alone. Many soldiers volunteered their time after their day duties to help him save the zoo. Anthony was successful in recovering one giraffe that had been stolen and rescued the Hussein family’s pet lions and tigers.
By the time Anthony left Iraq, the animals were healthy and active, their cages were clean and the zoo was preserved. The US gave $2.5 million for the rebuilding of the zoo. Anthony was awarded a medal for his bravery from the United States Army’s Third Infantry Division. Anthony wrote about his experience in the book, “Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo” in 2007. The book was co-authored by Anthony’s brother-in-law and Graham Spence.
Anthony’s family immigrated to South Africa from Scotland on a mail ship in the 1920’s. His grandfather was a miner and his father went on to found an insurance business and traveled with his family around southern Africa. His father established businesses in small towns throughout the southern Africa territory. Lawrence was born on September 17, 1950, in Johannesburg. He grew up in Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe and came to Zululand, South Africa, as a young child. While in his youth, he enjoyed roaming the African bush with his pet German Shepard. He took up the family insurance business in his young adult years and later went into real estate development.
Anthony’s hobby of wildlife was also his passion and it was turned into a career when when he bought one of the largest game sanctuaries the 5,000-acre Thula Thula reserve in South Africa. He turned the reserve into a tourist destination when he added luxury accommodations and fine dining. He offered tourists an up close view of wildlife. He believes that there is a sensibility, a sanity and a naturalness in the land, but also missed living in the city; though, his concerns and passion were in preserving wildlife and the land.
In 1999, Anthony was offered nine elephants — three adult females, three young elephants, and adolescent bull and two babies — to be added to his sanctuary. The Elephant Managers and Owners Association, a private group offered him the nine troubled elephants from another game reserve. The elephants were creating trouble by raiding buildings, charging at staff and vehicles and they said that the animals would be shot if he didn’t take them. Anthony knew that the only thing that would stop an elephant is an electric wire and if an elephant didn’t respect the wire, you’ll end up shooting the animal in order to control it. These elephants were clever and didn’t respect it anymore. The private group warned him that they were wild and troublesome. He decided to take in the cleaver animals and opened up the reserve to the wild elephants.
Upon taking in the elephants they immediately broke out of the boma — the enclosure they are put in — and then out of the whole game reserve. Anthony and his rangers tracked them and found they had broken into an adjacent reserve and began charging at a senior ranger, nearly killing him. He managed to get the herd back to the reserve and decided to get in contact with the matriarch of the herd. He placed himself inside the boma and ignored the female matriarch when she charged at him and he went on talking to her. He kept at it and got closer and closer to her. She didn’t break out and slowly settled down. He made it a routine and a few weeks later she came up to the fence with her ears down. She seemed relaxed and put her trunk through the fence to touch Anthony. He then let the herd out into the reserve, by that time there were 16 elephants.
Anthony wrote in his book, “The Elephant Whisperer: My Life With the Herd in the African Wild,” telling about his experience in gaining respect and eventually winning the elephant’s trust. He came to appreciate the way the elephants communicated with one another and came to understand their intricate communication system and sixth sense. He gained a unique ability to communicate and calm traumatized elephants.
In his book he wrote, “the (female matriarch) Nana, her baby and I were all together”, as he got closer and closer to her he said out loud, “They’ll kill you all if you break out. This is your home now. You have no need to run away anymore.” He writes, “Here I was in pitch darkness, talking to a wild female elephant with a baby, the most dangerous possible combination, as if we were having a friendly chat. But I meant every word. “You will all die if you go. Stay here. I will be here with you and it’s a good place.” She took another step forward. He could see her tense up again preparing to snap the electric wire and get out again. With him in the path of the herd, there would have been only seconds to scrabble to safety with no telling if he would make it in time. “Then something happened between Nana and me, some tiny spark of recognition, flaring for the briefest of moments, then it was gone.”
Anthony made the decision to live with the herd. “To save their lives, I would stay with them, feed them, talk to them. But, most importantly, be with them day and night. We all had to get to know each other,” Anthony writes. It worked and Anthony was later offered another troubled elephant that was alone since the rest of his herd had been shot or sold. The elephant feared humans, but Anthony took the animal in and decided to try the same process all over again. With much surprise, it worked again and his reputation spread and more “troublesome” elephants were brought to the Thula Thula reserve.
Anthony was nicknamed the ‘elephant whisperer’ with his ability to communicate with the elephants. Anthony recalls spending a few days of benign presence, “they eventually stop what the are doing and become interested in you.” Anthony believes that the elephants are intelligent enough to know that their predicament is caused from humans constantly shooting, darting and moving them. They wish for peace and for an understanding of what it would take to make us stop abusing them.
To help preserve wildlife and their habitats, he taught antagonistic African tribes the benefits of setting up game reserves to attract tourists. He introduced proposals to the United Nations to prohibit conservation areas or zoo’s as targets of war.
In 2006, Anthony met with leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group, pleading for them not to kill the rare northern white rhino in the Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Another book titled, “The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures,” was written by Anthony and speaks about the the atrocities that faced Congo’s last few northern rhino from facing extinction. He writes about flying into a war zone to negotiate with rebels. He temporarily convinces them that the white rhino is an important totem — as four of the species were still in existence and surviving. Conservationist now believe the northern subspecies of the white rhino is now extinct; though, Anthony’s efforts won’t be forgotten.
A film company from Hollywood contacted Anthony about the possibility of making a big budget film of the book. They asked Anthony who should play him and he said, “Brad Pitt, because a good likeness is necessary and they didn’t laugh!”
Late 2011, Kruger National Park authorities wanted to slaughter 7000 elephants because they say the elephants are destroying the biodiversity. Anthony disagreed and began a fight against the park authorities. Former top scientist and head of mammal research at the University of Pretoria has stated that there is not a shred of evidence to show that elephants adversely affect biodiversity.
Anthony died in 2012 from a heart attack. He would have liked to spend his career working with rural communities and fighting the elephant slaughter in South Africa.
According to Anthony’s son, Dylan, two elephant herds at Thula Thula arrived at the Anthony family house shortly after Anthony’s death. “They had not visited the house for a year and a half and it must have taken them 12 hours to make the journey,” Dylan was quoted by several local news agencies. “The first herd arrived on Sunday and the second herd, a day later. They all hung around for about two days before making their way back into the bush.” No one knows how they knew of his death; though, elephants have long been known to morn their dead. It is not uncommon for elephants to wast away without a will to live after the death of their lifelong “mahout” mate. Legendary bonds are made among the elephants, bonds that last a lifetime.
Anthony’s sons regard their father as a remarkable man who lived his life to the fullest and never looked back on any choices he made. He had a remarkable impact on animals and had a wondrous interconnectedness with all beings. When this man’s heart stopped, hundreds of elephants hearts began to morn. His loving heart offered healing to these remarkable animals and his life is a tribute worth celebrating. He lived victoriously for others and his love will never be forgotten.
He is survived by his wife Francoise, his two sons, Dylan and Jason, and two grandsons, Ethan and Brogan.
“I don’t think I have a mission in life. I just want to hold together the values that are important to us as human beings. The name of the game is to survive, and we can’t survive with the plant and animal kingdoms,” says Anthony. Just like people, plants and animals have to adapt to change. People can help these animals adapt by protecting and preserving their habitats in order for their survival.
Anthony believes, “Man’s cultural and traditional links to nature that used to be passed down, generation to generation, have become lost in a sea of ‘civilization’, bureaucracy and technology.” We should be looking at saving the environment and focusing our efforts on the habitat of animal species facing extinction. The more animals and plants we lose, the fewer there are to contribute to each ecosystem. The more each ecosystem is damaged, the greater the effect is on the environment as a whole. This could lead to negative impacts and subsequently lead to greater environmental concerns.
Each plant and animal in the open terrain brings something to the environment that another plant and animal will rely upon. Factors contribute to the extraordinary biodiversity that exists and prevents one species from taking over. According to Anthony, “The prophets of doom are already saying it’s too late, that the crude and uninformed impact of man on the planet’s life systems is just too great and that we don’t have enough time to turn it all around. I don’t happen to agree, but I do know that we are creating the end game. That unless there is a swift and marked change in our attitudes and actions, mankind could well be on its way to becoming an endangered species.” He believes that we can do something about it because, “thankfully the Earth has an incredible capacity to sustain life.”
Now it’s out turn to do what we can to make an impact in the world. Support the mission that Anthony had left behind.
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