Durban - The spirit of the Elephant Whisperer lives on at Thula Thula.
Lawrence Anthony’s dream is becoming a reality at the famous game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal.
Ambitious plans are afoot to expand the reserve and to merge it with Umfolozi and Hluhuluwe.
Yet it could have been so different almost a year ago, when Anthony, the founder of Thula Thula, died at 61 from a heart attack.
Anthony had created a legend with three books – Babylon’s Ark, The Elephant Whisperer and, just before his death, The Last Rhinos.
Thula Thula, Zulu for a place of peace and tranquillity, 20 minutes from Empangeni, urgently needed someone to fill the boots of Anthony, the optimist.
Enter his wife, the flamboyant Frenchwoman Francoise Malby-Anthony, whose excellent culinary skills and flair for design had complemented Anthony’s conservation projects.
But Malby-Anthony admits it was touch and go for a while. “I was in shock for a long time. There was total uncertainty over the future. I had a rough ride.”
Thula Thula’s 70-strong staff were confused by the gossip surrounding the game reserve.
But after Malby-Anthony visited her family in France everything clicked into place, she says. Something triggered a revival on the road to recovery. She praised her staff and management team for their loyalty and support during a difficult time.
But she still missed Lawrence, the love of her life. He was a pioneer, visionary and partly crazy – in a nice way.
“He was the luckiest guy I ever met. He loved excitement and a challenge.He had vision. He looked at his goals and disregarded the obstacles. He never gave up.”
Malby-Anthony said there were plans to increase the 4 500-hectare reserve by 1 500ha and to introduce more animals.
Anthony’s original herd of wayward elephant has increased from seven to 24 and seems to flourish under the guidance of the famous matriachs, Frankie and Nana.
Anthony’s ashes were scattered on the banks of the Mkhulu Dam which he created. The bones of his favourite elephant, Numzane, which was put down because of an abcess in his tusk, lie nearby.
The reserve’s rhinos, Thabo and Ntombi, are orphans who were relocated at Thula Thula from Moholoholo rehab centre when they were four and eight months old. They have been released into the game reserve under high surveillance.
Armed guards accompany Thabo and Ntombi to protect them against poachers. With a gunfight having taken place a few months ago – Thabo was shot in a leg – as well as the loss of Heidi, the female white rhino which was killed by poachers in 2009, the need for increasing protective measures is a harsh reality.
In memory of Anthony, and to assist with the protection of the two rhinos, Malby-Anthony established the Thula Thula Rhino Fund to raise funds for guards’ anti-poaching training and specialised equipment.
The money will also be used to acquire more orphans.
WHAT’S AT THULA THULA
Thula Thula has seven luxury units at the upmarket main lodge overlooking the Nseleni River. There is a bar, restaurant and swimming pool. A tented camp accommodates a further 20 guests
The suites of the five star Elephant Safari Lodge are decorated in Afro-colonial style.
Each spacious tent has a private viewing deck and a luxurious en-suite bathroom. The reserve abounds with wildlife including a breeding elephant herd, rhino and leopard.
Guests are treated to gourmet French cuisine complemented by South African wines.
THULA THULA RHINO FUND DETAILS
TEO non-profit registration No 2004/026715/08
Public Beneficiary Organisation (PBO) No 930033558
Bank: FNB account No 62358668948
Business cheque account. - Sunday Tribune