go! - - In Brief Upfront -

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.

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