The Elephant Whisperer

I know exactly what you’re now saying. How on Earth can she be reviewing yet another book? Which presumably she has actually read? (yes, I do read all of them). If you’re not asking, I’m sure Noisette is. How on Earth can she have time to read when she always claims she’s so busy there is no time to put dinner on the table? Well. Most of my reading and writing occurs (or doesn’t occur, because I’m too tired) after I’m done doing all the unseen and uncelebrated and unappreciated things one does when one has four kids (but not always cooking a proper dinner, it’s true).

stack of books

I really did get a lot of reading done over the holidays, because that’s pretty much the only thing you can squeeze in with a perpetually full house, and I’ve also given up on the New York Times for the moment, so I don’t know what’s going on in U.S. politics. Not that I’m missing anything, I’m told. Judging by the stack of books by my bed, however, you wouldn’t know that I’m making any kind of progress. It just keeps growing!

Anyway – ever since arriving here, several friends have recommended this book called The Elephant Whisperer, so when I happened upon it at Scoobs the other day, I decided to give it a try. It’s really a worthwhile read. Although the title is a bit misleading, because it immediately makes you think of the Horse Whisperer, and it has none of that cheesy chick-flick quality. It’s actually a rather serious book. What it’s mostly about is a guy (Lawrence Anthony, the author) who runs a game reserve here in South Africa, and all the challenges and adventures such a job brings with it – building fences, taking care of sick animals, removing snakes, negotiating with the surrounding tribes regarding land use, fighting off poachers, and, hence the title, introducing a new herd of elephants. What makes these elephants special is the fact that they were banned from their previous game reserve because they were regarded as dangerous, and had Lawrence not taken them in, they would have all been shot. In the end, he succeeds in appeasing them by establishing an incredible bond first with the herd’s matriarch and then the other members, but not without some huge obstacles and setbacks. (Incidentally, Lawrence Anthony later embarked on another adventure in order to save the animals of the Baghdad Zoo at the outbreak of the Iraq war in 2003, which he chronicled in Babylon’s Ark, another book on my reading list).

Elephant walking straight at us in Welgevonden Game Reserve, October 2011

What I like about The Elephant Whisperer is the insight it allows into a game ranger’s life. When you live in South Africa you invariably end up going on a safari, and there you invariably meet highly interesting people who choose to make a living in the bush, something that never ceases to fascinate me (see A Life in the Bush Managing a Game Lodge). And it also makes you appreciate how immensely smart elephants really are – which I think is a big reason they are so fascinating – and how dangerous they can also be, especially if one doesn’t read the signals correctly.

The same elephant right in front of our vehicle. Makes you feel very small!

When we stayed at Jamila Lodge in Welgevonden Game Reserve, we had an incident where an elephant came very close to us and was flapping his ears. It was very threatening, as it was meant to be.  Reading the Elephant Whisperer, I understood what he felt when he frequently had to make a stand against a charging elephant. I can assure you it makes for a very tense moment, even if you’re sitting up high in a game drive vehicle.

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