This Family Tree is Full of Elephants!

Those who have read the book “The Elephant Whisperer” come to visit the elephants that they have learned to love. Family Tree courtesy of Thula Thula.

Just like any family — it’s not perfect! Members come in all shapes and sizes; some with trunks in the front and others “carrying too much junk” in the back. Some were born into the family and others adopted along the way! But no one is judging and like any gathering with a “herd mentality,” everyone looks out for each other.

As you can see from the photo….this family tree really is growing!! It started out small with just a few rogue elephants that Lawrence rescued and then convinced them to stay on the Thula Thula Private Game Reserve. They stayed because he connected with them – especially Nana “the matriarch” and they knew they would be safe!

Maybe you will identify with this family and decide to become an extended family member too!

  • We don’t see each other every day but keep current via Facebook postings and newsletters.
  • Some of us have been known to be a bit rebellious – having “gone rogue” in the past but that’s mostly behind us – and we love them anyway.
  • Posing for family photos is a high priority at family gatherings….even though not all of us cooperate with the photographer.
  • Each new birth is celebrated – sometimes needing a helping hand from Francoise and the staff.
  • The passing of loved ones is mourned regularly; especially those who took a special interest and we believe still maintains “a spiritual connection” like Lawrence.
  • And when a member has a special need – we all try to help – as word is shared through all the branches of this extended family.

The Story Begins with “The Elephant Whisperer!”

Lawrence Anthony – shared his home and heart!
Photo courtesy of Thula Thula

The family homestead is the Thula Thula Private Game Reserve at Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa. Just a couple hours drive from the Durban airport – but a world away from bustling city life. The name Thula Thula is taken from the Zula language and means “peace and tranquility.” And having stayed twice at the tented camp, I can attest to the joys of staying here and meeting the rest of the family.

Before visiting, its recommended to read Lawrence Anthony’s book “The Elephant Whisperer.” I missed meeting this wonderful man, conservationist, husband and writer by a few months. But I got to know him through his book, his lovely wife Francoise, his staff and the world he created at Thula Thula.

In the book, you’ll learn how the conservationist, Lawrence, came to own a large private reserve, how he met his French wife in London and convinced her to join him in the Bush and how he rescued a herd of wild “gone rogue” elephants. If he didn’t – they wouldn’t have survived – this was their last chance! It’s a story of how to win over elephants that don’t trust humans and how it changed everyone’s lives.

Lawrence was an amazing person – taking on challenges that others would avoid. His other books about saving the last rhino and rescuing starving animals from the Baghdad Zoo immediately after the topple of Saddam Hussein should also be added to your reading list. I highly recommend them all.

What’s Thula Thula like?

It’s everything you would imagine of a game reserve in the African bush – with so much to offer. The reserve is 4500 hectares; that would be 11,115 acres in size and completely malaria-free. The land is heavily guarded – to keep the animals safe – from poachers. You can stay in their luxurious lodge or glamping in the tented camp – which is also glamorous – just look at the photos on their website. The food is exceptional and you’ll love having a braai (barbecue) at least one night as the staff entertains you. And they can arrange for a driver to provide door-to-tent service from the Durban Airport to the reserve. No worries – all your comforts are met – including pools to cool off, massages to relax, and even a visit to the Sangoma (traditional healer) a the Zulu Village upon request. See their website for more details: http://www.ThulaThula.com or Facebook. You’ll also see that they have a Rehabilitation Center and Volunteer Academy as well.

On both my trips I was fortunate to stay in one of the large family tents….this is truly glamping…. as in glamorous camping!! Photo courtesy or Thula Thula.

Thank you AFS for the Introduction

I first came to Thula Thula as part of a travel group organized by Adventures for Solo Travelers – www. afstravelers.com. Our group of 16 guests occupied the entire tented camp. For daily game drives and bush walks, we broke into two smaller groups on safari jeeps for up close and personal encounters with the wildlife. In the feature photo above, you see me with Gobesi (a very inquisitive elephant); checking each other out. You’ll also see rhino, water buffalo, hippos, bushbabies, and more! And the guides – our favorites were Victor and Shendu – will teach you so much and I’m still friends with them all on FB. As we all do – some will come and go – but its a family that stays in touch. Zelda, who used to run the tented camp, has moved closer to her kids and Kim, the photographer that took many of the photos you’ll see on their website visits regularly. Shendu is now a tour guide for another company. It’s rare that complete strangers come together, discuss the challenges that life has given to us or our loved ones, and become lifetime friends.

But the story doesn’t end there…..

Francoise Steps into Lawrence’s shoes

And the reserve’s future is safe with Francoise.Photo courtesy of Thula Thula

Lawrence had passed away just months before our first visit and we wondered what would happen to the reserve and the animals. We’re happy that it has continued and is growing as well. Francoise, a fully transplanted Parisienne now, has embraced her added responsibilities in running the reserve. The staff and elephants rallied around her. The herd even shared her grief by circling the main house on the anniversary of Lawrence’s death to grieve together.

There were challenges along the way – but it does have a happy ending – and her story isn’t over.

Baby Tom seeks help – photo courtesy of Thula Thula

Francoise’s book also tells the story of how Tom, new-born baby elephant ended up separated from the herd, somehow knew instinctively to seek help at the house, and tapped on the kitchen door. I won’t spoil the story for you other than to show you a photo of Francoise with Baby Tom. I remember reading the newletter and FB posts even before the newspapers got hold of the story.

Game Drives and Bush Walks

Having experienced game drives several times in African countries, what makes these so special is how close you are to the animals. While they are still wild, they have become comfortable with having the jeeps and drivers around. So comfortable that thy will come up to see who’s in the jeep and to say hello. Victor is driving the jeep and Shendu is in the sitting on the jeep hood seat.

During the bush walks, you’ll even be able to walk among the animals – at a safe distance – but allowing you to realize just how “big” they really are in comparison to us. And day or night, they may also visit you at the lodge or tented camp, while it’s a huge reserve, they do get around. And the guides know how to find them.

Hugging the Amarula Tree

Five of us from the 1st trip – now better known as the Amarula 5, returned a few years later to reunite with all that is Thula Thula! The name Amarula is dual purposed…..for the fruit of the Marula tree that these tree huggers love and also for the fine liqueur that goes by the name Amarula. For those that have never tried it – think a smooth Bailey’s and Cream with a slight nutty taste. Sending love to my Amarula sisters – Cynthia, Karen, Becky and Margaret and to Shendu who first introduced us to the Marula tree.

Come Visit and Join the Extended Family

Africa has a way of getting into your heart and I find I have to visit at least every other year. My Thula Thula family is a special addition to my long extended family as well and I hope that you reach out to them as well. Give Francoise and everyone my best when you do!!

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