Hero Pets: The Mournful Elephant Herd

Connections between man and beast can run deep, as one family learned after saving elephants in South Africa.

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Lawrence Anthony had a special way with elephants-so much so that when the South African conservationist suddenly died of a heart attack in March 2012, the 21 pachyderms living on his land paid homage to him. More than a decade earlier, another reserve owner threatened to shoot the animals for repeatedly trampling fences and gardens on his land. Anthony stepped in to save the herd, allowing it to roam his 11,000-acre game reserve in Zululand, South Africa.

Photos: Anthony: Courtesy Karen Davison; Elephants: Courtesy Francoise Malby-Anthony

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As Anthony worked with the unruly elephants, he developed a deep connection with them. “To save their lives, I would stay with them, feed them, talk to them,” Anthony wrote in his 2009 book, The Elephant Whisperer. That devotion inspired Anthony to found the Earth Organization, an environmental group, in 2003, on behalf of many endangered animals.

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Two days after Anthony’s death, the elephant herd he’d welcomed in 1999 and had lived among for years approached his house in single file. “The elephants lined up behind the fence and waited, agitated but not aggressive,” recalls Anthony’s wife of 25 years, Françoise Anthony. Then the 21 giant, gentle, gray beasts rocked from side to side, making deep and mournful rumbling noises. “We feel they came to pay their respects,” she says.

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