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Elephant Herd Walks Over 12 Hours to Mourn Human Rescuer Who Passed Away

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Acclaimed conservationist, best-selling author and environmentalist, Lawrence Anthony was known for his bold initiatives. In 2003, he took it upon himself to rescue the Baghdad Zoo animals when Iraq was invaded.

Again, when Southern Sudan was in negotiations with the Lord’s Resistance Army he raised awareness for the environment and endangered species, particularly the last of the northern white rhinoceros.

Back at home in Zululand, Kwazulu Natal, Anthony was the owner and head of conservation at his Thula Thula Exclusive Private Game Reserve. It was here he was asked to take in a herd of elephants. It had never been part of his plan for the Reserve to take in elephants, and this herd was known for their unruly temperaments and escape tactics.

His common sense was telling him to say no, but he also knew he was the herd’s only option. If he didn’t accept them they would be killed. With that, he opened his doors.  

“They were a difficult bunch, no question about it,” he recalled, “But I could see a lot of good in them too. They’d had a tough time and were all scared, and yet they were looking after one another, trying to protect one another.”

Anthony’s response was to treat the elephants like children. He would talk to them using words and gestures to persuade them to not misbehave—building trust with them one day at a time.

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Nana, the herd leader, was where he placed most of his focus in the rehabilitation process.

It has been reported that the herd’s memorial for their beloved friend remarkably continues annually since 2012.

“I’d go down to the fence and I’d plead with Nana not to break it down,” he said. “I knew she didn’t understand English, but I hoped she’d understand by the tone of my voice and my body language what I was saying. And one morning, instead of trying to break the fence down, she just stood there. Then she put her trunk through the fence towards me. I knew she wanted to touch me. That was a turning point.”

He became a part of their family.

This bond was evident years later when Anthony passed away in 2012. The same herd he had nurtured over a decade before was reported to have traveled over 12 hours through the Zululand bush to Anthony’s house. According to his sons Jason and Dylan, both herds arrived shortly after Anthony’s death.

“They had not visited the house for a year-and-a-half and it must have taken them about 12 hours to make the journey,” said Dylan. “They all hung around for about two days before making their way back into the bush,” said Dylan.

Although it is difficult to say how the elephants could have sensed their friend passing on at such a distance, elephants are known for their strong relational ties and grieving rituals. According to researchers, they grieve the deaths of their relatives as they would grieve the passing of a child of parent.

“In coming up there on that day of all days, we certainly believe that they had sensed it,” says Jason.

It has been reported that the herd’s memorial for their beloved friend remarkably continues annually since 2012.