MEET THE AUTHOR
When renowned conservationist and author Lawrence Anthony suddenly passed away from a heart attack in March 2012, his widow Françoise Malby Anthony didn’t have much time to grieve. Their game reserve Thula Thula still needed her. In An Elephant In My Kitchen, the sequel to Lawrence’s international bestseller The Elephant Whisperer (2009), Françoise (with Katja Willemsen) writes about how she and her team of rangers and volunteers has kept Lawrence’s legacy going. What helped you carry on after Lawrence passed away? Protecting our rhinos was my responsibility. I felt very lonely, but I had no option except to carry on fighting for their survival. I started a non-profit organisation and thanks to some wonderful donors I was able to increase protection for the rhinos by sending the members of our anti-poaching team for more training. We also got new antipoaching equipment. The people of Thula Thula – my 50 employees – were also my responsibility and they have been a great support since Lawrence passed away. Here again, I had no choice but to carry on. Of course, our herd of special elephants has helped me get through the grief.
What is your favourite memory of Lawrence? His amazing sense of humour. He could make the most hilarious comments in the worst situations. I also admired his everlasting optimism and “joie de vivre”.
Why did you decide to write this book? Many people were asking for it. They all loved The Elephant Whisperer and they were curious to find out what was happening at Thula Thula after Lawrence’s death. Many people thought the reserve had closed down; there were even rumours that I’d gone back to France! I also wanted to use the book to spread awareness about the work we’ve been doing and the challenges of wildlife conservation, as well as the tragic consequences of poaching. What lessons have you learnt from the elephants in your reserve? They’re better than humans. They never cease to amaze me – their intelligence and their surprising behaviour in certain circumstances no scientist can explain. They have natural compassion for each other and many other human characteristics, but without the ego and evil. They know they are safe at Thula Thula. They come and visit me often at my house and those moments are always magical. They have so much power, but they’re so gentle and vulnerable at the same time. For me, they are the most lovable creatures.
Will you ever go back to France? I visit my family and my friends every year, but I will always come back to the bush.
What have you learnt about conservation since Lawrence passed away? Everything. I did not know the meaning of the word 20 years ago when we moved in at Thula Thula. At the time I was dealing with the admin, marketing and hospitality, but since Lawrence passed away I’ve had to take over the conservation work, too. Since 2012, we’ve opened a rescue and rehabilitation centre and a volunteer camp for nature and wildlife conservation education. I’ve restructured the whole anti-poaching team and I’ve initiated a contraception programme for our male elephants as the reserve has reached maximum capacity. Now I’m working on an expansion project to increase the land for our herd, so they can flourish and prosper. It’s a community project that has been agreed upon with the local tribal leaders. Once the management plan has been completed and signed, we can start fencing the new area. I also created a non-profit organisation called The South African Conservation Fund to help support our conservation projects.
What do you want readers to take away from your book? Overcoming adversity is a part of life. It’s the way you react to a challenge that is important. After Lawrence died, I was forced to look at the positive side of life, even if everything seemed to be collapsing around me. Most importantly, never give up, even if you want to run away. You’ll only find a solution to a problem if you face that problem head-on.
How are things at the wildlife rehab centre? We have a few rescues at the moment, including wildebeest, kudu, genet and duiker. Once the animals are healthy, they’ll be released into the wild at Thula Thula.
What do you want people to know about visiting Thula Thula? We have the most amazing herd of elephants, rhinos, the best game rangers ever and great accommodation and food.
What’s next for the reserve? The expansion project. And maybe lions next year… One day we’ll be a real Big Five destination. – Calyn Moneron
An Elephant In My Kitchen is published by Pan Macmillan and costs R290 in bookstores.