By: Florencia Arrechea @ —> An Inquisitive Mind
The process of grieving is different for all of us; it can be based on our culture, religion or family traditions. But one thing is certain, in doing so we rend homage to loved ones and pass the knowledge of their life down generations, so they will always be remembered.
We have discovered this emotional “goodbye” is found within the animal kingdom, certain species share this ceremony and even have their own grieving process, albeit displaying it differently and sometimes contradictory to what we expect.
Anthony Lawrence, also known as “the elephant whisperer” passed away March 2nd, 2012. The following days, after approximately 12 hours of travel, two herds of wild South African elephants in a “funerary procession” gathered at his house; paid their respects for two days and left. Some people say this surpasses human logic; but we are not talking about logic, being human or elephant, we are taking of emotions; perhaps humans and animals are not so different after all. The history behind this tale is unfortunately…
Anthony Lawrence; international conservationist, environmentalist, explorer and bestselling author; had been known for his work in trying to save the wild life in the planes of Africa and surrounding countries, as well as having his own animal reserve, Thula Thula, in the heart of the Zululand, part of the KwaZulu-Natal province. And in 1999 he was asked by the Elephant Managers and Owners Association (EMOA); a private association located in South Africa that caress for the welfare of the oversized pachyderms; to take on a herd that had been dubbed “troublesome” for their hostility towards people and because the herd’s matriarch was a well accomplished escape artist. The elephants had two weeks to find another home; otherwise they would all be shot. Lawrence, with plenty of doubts, said yes. Now is when our story borders the amazing…
The elephants were relocated to ThulaThula but not everything went smoothly. A mother and her daughter were shot and killed in the moving process, making the aggression of the animals towards humans reach a violent nature. After arriving, the matriarch Nana, guided the herd around the perimeter of the electrical barrier, touching the wire with her trunk, testing the fence. That same night, her and her sister Frankie, worked together to push a tree onto the electric generator of the fence and made their escape. Lawrence had to fight for the elephants to not be killed, once out of the reservation they were fair game for poachers, local villagers and hunters who would shoot them on sight.
That morning after managing to capture them; Lawrence had to face the full anger of an infuriated and trapped animal, one who could withstand and snap the 8,000 volts of electric wire standing between them. He recounts in his book, The Elephant Whisperer:
“It was 4:45 a.m. and I was standing in front of Nana, an enraged wild elephant, pleading with her in desperation. Both our lives depended on it. […] “Nana, the matriarch of her herd, tensed her enormous frame and flared her ears. -Don’t do it, Nana- I said, as calmly as I could. She stood there, motionless but tense. The rest of the herd froze. -This is your home now- I continued -Please don’t do it, girl- I felt her eyes boring into me. -They’ll kill you all if you break out. This is your home now. You have no need to run anymore- Suddenly, the absurdity of the situation struck me,”
“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. I could see her tense up again, preparing to snap the electric wire and be out, the rest of the herd smashing after her in a flash. […] “Then something happened between Nana and me, some tiny spark of recognition, flaring for the briefest of moments. Then it was gone. Nana turned and melted into the bush. The rest of the herd followed. I couldn’t explain what had happened between us, but it gave me the first glimmer of hope since the elephants had first thundered into my life.”
After this Lawrence made a life changing decision, he went to live with the elephants. In his book he recounts the pains and obstacles he went through to reach his goal: the trust and friendship of the herd and ultimately their love and respect. He and his wife became so close with the elephants, than when his first grandchild was born, he went down to show the child to the herd, earning a lengthy silent treatment from his daughter in law.
The herds had been away for one and a half years, till that fateful Sunday, when they came marching back. How did they know that their human friend was gone so suddenly? Did they develop a connection so strong they felt the emptiness of his parting, like the ripples in a pond? No one can answer for sure, all we can be sure is that amid the turmoil of their fear, they found a friend who would listen and protect them. Lawrence said they taught him how to understand, through whispers in the air; perhaps this visit was to whisper a last goodbye.
“The Elephant Whisperer: Learning about Life, Loyalty and Freedom from a remarkable herd of elephants” by Anthony Lawrence and Spence Graham.