Saying Goodbye: Elephants Hold Apparent Vigil To Mourn Their Human Friend
May 14, 2012
Lawrence Anthony was a conservationist and author known as ”The Elephant Whisperer”who passed away on March 2nd. In 1999, Anthony rescued and rehabilitated a group of wild South African elephants who were deemed dangerous. And the animals appear to remember what he did for them: when Anthony passed away, a group of elephants visited his house in the South African KwaZulu for a two-day vigil, according to his family.
Anthony, who grew up in rural Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, was known for his unique ability to communicate with and calm traumatized elephants. In his book ‘The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild’, he tells the story of saving the elephant herds, at the request of an animal welfare organization.
Anthony concluded that the only way he could save these elephants, who were categorized as violent and unruly, was to live with them - “To save their lives, I would stay with them, feed them, talk to them. But, most importantly, be with them day and night”.
When Anthony died of a heart attack, the elephants, who were grazing miles away in different parts of the park, travelled over 12 hours to reach his house. According to his son Jason, both herds arrived shortly after Anthony’s death. They hadn’t visited the compound where Anthony lived for a year and a half, but Jason says “in coming up there on that day of all days, we certainly believe that they had sensed it”.
While it’s hard to say how they could have sensed that Anthony had died, elephants are known for their grieving rituals, both in the wild and in captivity. According to many researchers, elephants grieve the deaths of their relatives, as when a child or parent dies.
To find out more about Anthony’s life and work – among his many achievements are the founding of conservation group The Earth Organization in 2003, and rushing to the Baghdad Zoo to protect the animals that remained alive there after the American invasion of Iraq – check out his obituary in the New York Times.
For another look at the emotional bonds that elephants may experience with one another, this short documentary details the experience of two elephants, Shirley Jenny, who were reunited after over 20 years of being apart. They went on to live together for 6 yearsbefore Jenny’s death in 2006, at which time Shirley remained alone in the woods and didn’t eat for two days:
Elephants around the world are at risk due to human interference, according to travel writer Diana Edelman. While seeing an elephant up close, or even riding one, is an exciting prospect for a lot of tourists, Edelman points out that many of the elephants available to ride in Thailand have been victims of abuse during their training. In this blog post, she details the abuses that often occur during the training of elephants in that country.