Tue, Jun 5, 2012
Grade 12 LISTENING COMPREHENSION
Colleen teaches English at St Joseph’s Marist College, Rondebosch, where she is Head of the Middle School
THE ELEPHANT WHISPERER
From rescuing a herd of rogue elephants destined to be shot, to saving the animals in Baghdad Zoo during the Iraqi war, maybe it is no surprise that Hollywood has made a film about maverick conservationist Lawrence Anthony. When Liz Else tracked him down she talked to him about reconnecting with nature and communicating with elephants.
Liz Else: How did you end up being called ‘the elephant whisperer’?
Lawrence Anthony: Elephants communicate with me at least as much as I do with them. It takes a lot of time and you need to be alone with them. After a few days of benign presence they stop what they are doing and take an interest in you. They are generally interested in humans because they are intelligent enough to gauge that their predicament is brought about by humans, who shoot them, dart them, move them – something is always going on involving humans. I think they value good relations with us, but they don’t know what it is that would make us stop abusing them.
Liz Else: Do elephants communicate with us?
Lawrence Anthony: There is scientific work on communication between elephants via infrasound. But communicating with humans is another matter, it hasn’t really been studied. These animals are doing something, or maybe there’s something going on both ways — we somehow get into contact with each other and you certainly know when it is happening.
Liz Else: Surely it wouldn’t be difficult to investigate?
Lawrence Anthony: The trouble is that there isn’t the money. Studying elephant communication is a kind of luxury. Maybe we need an Elephant Foundation with our own Bill Gates?
Liz Else: How did you end up observing this first hand since you are not a scientist?
Lawrence Anthony: I have no formal training but I grew up in Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe and came to Zululand, South Africa, when I was young. I’m a bush child of the 1950s. Once you’ve got it in your blood it’s difficult to get it out. Eventually, after selling insurance and working in property development, I sold up and bought ThulaThula, a game reserve in Zululand which was then 5000 acres. There’s a sensibility, a sanity and a naturalness in the bush I missed when I lived in the city, plus I was becoming more and more concerned about the bush.
Liz Else: What was happening that worried you?
Lawrence Anthony: Before I bought Thula, I was working with Zulu tribes to try to rebuild their historical relationship with the bush. They’d been badly affected by apartheid and colonialism. For example, Zulu villagers who had long since shot what little game lived around them had South Africa’s huge Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve on their doorstep — but villagers weren’t allowed in. Part of my work at that time was to take them into the park. The children had never seen a giraffe, which is very shocking. Their cultural and traditional ties to the bush had disappeared. This is the core of what I do — help rebuild the relationships between remote African people and the bush, and the plant and animal kingdoms.
Liz Else: So how did you end up with a rogue herd?
Lawrence Anthony: In 1999, someone called from the Elephant Managers and Owners Association, a private group, and said she had a herd of nine troubled elephants. They were on another game reserve, creating trouble by raiding buildings, charging staff and vehicles. They were going to be shot. The only thing that restrains an elephant is an electric wire, and it’s a maxim in the industry that if an elephant doesn’t respect a wire, you’ll end up shooting it because you can’t control it. Now these ones didn’t respect it any more — they’d got clever.
Liz Else: How do elephants learn to beat electric fences?
Lawrence Anthony: I’ve seen it zillions of times. They’ve got voltage metres in their trunks it seems! They’ll put their trunk under the wire and walk along it checking the power. If the power drops enough, they’ll push through. The elephants do all sorts of things to explore the wire. Sometimes they realise that their tusks don’t conduct electricity very well, so they can twist the wire and break it. They also learn that if they go through quickly the pain is very short.
Liz Else: But you took on this troubled herd?
Lawrence Anthony: Yes. They immediately broke out of the boma, the enclosure we put them in, and then out of the whole game reserve. We tracked them and found they’d broken into an adjacent reserve where they distinguished themselves by charging the senior ranger, nearly killing him.
Liz Else: How did you finally get through to the herd?
Lawrence Anthony: At that point I got really interested and thought there had to be another way around the problem. I managed to get the herd back and decided to get into some sort of contact with the matriarch. I placed myself outside the boma and ignored her when she charged at me and went on talking to her. I kept doing that and got closer and closer. She didn’t break out of the boma and slowly settled into a routine. Then one day, after a few weeks she came up to the fence with her ears down. She seemed relaxed and put her trunk through the fence and touched me. Then I let the herd out into the reserve. There are now 16 of them.
Lawrence Anthony founded the international conservation body The Earth Organization, affiliated to the South African Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a member of the Explorers Club of New York, and was presented with the Earth Day medal at the UN for his rescue of Baghdad Zoo. His latest book, The Elephant Whisperer, is published by Sidgwick& Jackson.
1 Lawrence Anthony is described as a ‘maverick conservationist’. What is the meaning of the word, ‘maverick’ in this context. (2)
2 Name ONE requirement that is necessary for effective communication to occur between elephants and human-beings. (1)
3 According to Anthony, why are elephants ‘vaguely interested’ in human-beings? (2)
4 Why is it so difficult to conduct scientific research into the instance of communication between elephants and human-beings? (2)
5 Besides being a ‘maverick conservationist’, Anthony has worked in other career-fields. Name one other career that he has pursued in his
6 Name one skill needed for his former careers, which would assist Anthony in his present role as a ‘conservationist’. Give a reason for your
7 In working with his ‘rogue herd’, why did Anthony first need to attain the trust of the herd’s ‘matriarch’? (2)
8 How many elephants does Anthony have at present in his herd? (1)
9 Name the award given to Lawrence Anthony in recognition of his rescue of the Baghdad Zoo.(1)
- The answer MUST BE contextualised. A ‘maverick’ is an independently-minded individual who often attains results through unorthodox means. Anthony’s success as a ‘conservationist’ has been attained through his OWN way of doing things, which are often not rooted in traditional scientific practice. (2)
- Time (patience) and solitude… the person needs to approach the elephant ALONE. (1)
- Elephants are intelligent enough to sense that human-beings have a significant (often negative) influence on their existence.(2)
- Scientific research is costly and researching the communication between elephants and human-beings is considered a ‘luxury’ and not a necessity.(2)
- Any ONE of: Insurance-Broker and Property Development (1)
- Accept any valid answer: e.g. the ability to PERSEVERE in marketing your product…(3)
- She is ‘leader’ of the herd in that the rest of herd has been nurtured by her and they therefore trust her; if she trusts Anthony, then the rest of the herd will follow her example of trusting him.(2)
- 16 (1)
- The Earth Day Medal (1)
©Colleen Callahan, 2012