It’s scientifically difficult to explain: A herd of elephants marched for 12 hours to the home of Lawrence Anthony, the man who saved them, after his death and stayed there, silent, for two days.

We all know that elephants mourn for the dead as they are sentient beings. Well, it looks like they don’t only stand vigil for the death of their own kind but for fellow humans who cared for them as well.

BBC One recently posted on their Facebook page that two herds of elephants marched for about 12 hours to the house of a man who rescued them, Lawrence Anthony, after he passed away.

So, to understand the gesture of these elephants, we did a little digging and decided to tell the story of Lawrence Anthony, who was dubbed The Elephant Whisperer.


1. The Elephant Whisperer, Lawrence Anthony

Back in 1999, this man opened the gates of Thula Thula Game Reserve, South Africa to wild elephants, but that wasn’t his original plan for the reserve. Nevertheless, he took a leap of faith and accepted the rogue elephants because if he didn’t take them in, they would be killed. According to him, they weren’t easy to deal with because they had been known for escaping other enclosures and acting rogue.

Source: national geographic

He said,

“They were a difficult bunch, no question about it.”


“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.”

The heart of a true animal lover. ❤

2. Bonding with wild elephants and their matriarch 

Lawrence took it in his stride to nurture these majestic beasts, so he started treating them like children. He used words to persuade them, and he would also use gestures to show that they were perfectly safe with him. He mainly focused on the matriarch, Nana, in order to connect with the rest of the elephants. Therefore, Lawrence would go down the fence and beg Nana not to break it. Breaking the fence was her attempt of an escape.

He knew she couldn’t understand English, but Nana could pick up his body language. 

Source: where i am wearing

One day, a new dawn broke as Nana reached out to Lawrence as she put her trunk through the fence and towards Lawrence. He realised that she wanted him to pet her and that signified the start of their beautiful relationship. The elephants then grew very fond of Lawrence as well as his wife, Francois. They thought him “life, loyalty and freedom”; in fact, they became so close that the elephants thought that Lawrence’s house is their home too. Sometimes, they had to be chased out of the living room.  

And, just like that, they were family and the best of friends! 

3. The Elephant Whisperer takes his last breath

For many, many years, the herds and Lawrence shared a great bond with each other, but unfortunately, the conservationist died on 2nd March 2012. According to the New York Times, Lawrence died due to a heart attack; and he left behind his wife and his two sons. The man who abandoned a career in insurance and real estate had saved all kinds of animals apart from Nana’s herds. Some of the animals that he saved during his lifetime are:

Source: die reiselautsprecher

Fun fact: Lawrence even managed to talk the African rebels – who were all wanted as war criminals – into caring and nursing the remaining northern white rhinoceros. Nonetheless, none of that matches up to the relationship and sacred link that he had with Nana as well as her herds. So, it’s no wonder they turned up to pay their respects. 


4. Nana and her herds pay their respects every year on his death day 

Upon the passing of Lawrence, these majestic beasts walked 12 hours from Zululand bush to their friend’s home to pay their respects. They stood vigil for two days outside of Lawrence’s house before returning to their regular lives in the bush. Lawrence’s son, Dylan shared,

“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.”

Source: instagram

What’s even more amazing that no one told both herds, which were led by their matriarch Nana, about Lawrence’s death, it’s like they just knew about it. I guess the old maiden’s tale is true, animals can sense things we can’t. 

If you think that’s the only time that Nana and her herds stood vigil for Lawrence, think again. This is because they will always travel 12 hours every year on 2nd March to pay their respects for their fallen comrade.

Source: thula thula

Today, the Thula Thula Game Reserve still strives under the care of Lawrence’s son, Dylan, and he also accepted an honorary Doctor of Science degree on behalf of his dad from the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science. As for Nana and the others, well, they are enjoying their time in Thula Thula Game Reserve.

On that note, if you would like to know more about Lawrence Anthony and his works, you can get his books – like The Last Rhinos & The Elephant Whisperers –  on Amazon. In the meantime, enjoy this short video about Lawrence and his journey with elephants.