Our Burning Planet


‘The Elephants of Thula Thula’ — a jumbo-sized love story

‘The Elephants of Thula Thula’ — a jumbo-sized love story
From left: Internationally bestselling author & owner of Thula Thula Game Reserve, Françoise Malby-Anthony. (Photo: Flickr / Gene Driskell) | Investigative journalist Dr Don Pinnock. (Photo: Supplied)

Elephants have great spirit, and no one seems to know that better than the author and conservationist Françoise Malby-Anthony, who launched her book ‘The Elephants of Thula Thula’ at a webinar hosted by Our Burning Planet writer Don Pinnock.

‘My Thula Thula journey had been entirely driven by love. First I fell in love with Lawrence [her late husband], then the land, and then the elephants. Somehow, the elephants got into my soul,” reads an excerpt from author and conservationist Françoise Malby-Anthony’s book The Elephants of Thula Thula

The excerpt kicked off the webinar, a virtual book launch, hosted by Our Burning Planet journalist Don Pinnock in conversation with Malby-Anthony. The book, described as vivid and lyrical, is the author’s recollection of her remarkable relationship with a growing herd of elephants and a life dedicated to conservation.

Malby-Anthony shared in the webinar that she and her late husband, the conservationist Lawrence Anthony, had received seven elephants in 1999 which they didn’t know what to do with. After keeping the elephants in a boma — following their escape — and her husband spending 24 hours bonding with the matriarch of the herd, a wonderful connection, which remains to this day, was formed.

“Lawrence didn’t call it elephant whispering; he used to say, ‘They talk to me’, or he would listen to them,” the author recalled fondly. “Trust was created … and that created the future of this herd.”

Thula Thula, the game reserve owned by the author, now hosts 27 elephants that Malby-Anthony considers her pride and joy. 

She spoke about her special bond with an elephant named Franky, adding that her relationship with the animal was the hardest to write about as a result of what happened to it.

“Franky was bold and feisty and very special to me,” said Malby-Anthony. She remembered the first time she encountered Franky; she was on a motorbike with Lawrence and the elephant nearly squashed them, with Lawrence stepping in to avert a tragedy.

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“It was the scariest moment of my life; she was on top of us, about to squash us. From that day, I had great respect … and it’s been an interesting relationship from there.”

While elephants are at the centre of Malby-Anthony’s heart, she has made room for other animals. 

Thula Thula also hosts antelope and rhino, among other animals. Malby-Anthony recalled a time when Thula Thula had too many antelope and some were kept in a boma before being sent off to another reserve.

Before their departure, Nana, the matriarch of the herd of elephants, figured out how to unlock the gate of the boma, and set the antelope free into the bush. It turned out the reserve for which they were destined had previously mistreated elephants.

As for the rhinos, Malby-Anthony said she ran a very expensive operation to ensure their safety amid poaching which had resulted in a steady decline in the rhino population.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Rhino poaching declines in Africa, but white rhino in Kruger Park hardest hit

The Elephants of Thula Thula is Malby-Anthony’s second book, following An Elephant in My Kitchen. She plans to release what she describes as a fun cookbook, which will be titled Dinner With Elephants

Pinnock asked Malby-Anthony what the world would be like without elephants. 

“Completely catastrophic!” she responded. “Catastrophe for biodiversity and other animals too. When elephants push a tree, they’re doing it for other animals who can’t reach the treetops, or collect water for animals in need. People say elephants are destructive, but they are creative when they destroy.” DM/OBP

Absa OBP

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  • Alan Paterson says:

    A lovely webinar, Lawrence Anthony was a true hero for animals and Francoise likewise. I regret now not asking for her to recall the incident after the untimely death of Lawrence when his elephants suddenly reappeared at their camp as though in mourning for the great man.

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