Changing Planet

Izilwane Remembers Lawrence Anthony: Conservationist and Environmental Diplomat

Courtesy of Lawrence Anthony


The world is saying goodbye this month to one of the most fascinating conservationists of this generation. Elephant Whisperer – so-called because of his ability to understand and calm otherwise violent and terrified elephants – Lawrence Anthony passed away from a heart attack on March 2, 2012, during a business trip to Johannesburg, South Africa.

Most famous for his bold rescue of several animals from the shattered and shelled Baghdad Zoo in 2003, Anthony was on a tour to promote his new book, coauthored with compatriot and brother-in-law Graham Spence, titled The Last Rhinos, an in-depth look at Anthony’s time in the Congo trying to save the white rhinoceros.

Courtesy of Lawrence Anthony


“The [Lord’s Resistance Army] was encamped in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which at the time was the last refuge of the northern white rhino,” Anthony told Izilwane in an interview last year. “Essentially, I went and found them in the jungle to try and persuade them not kill the game guards or the last few rhinos. I ended up living with leaders in their secret jungle camps. My discussions and attempts to persuade the LRA to save the rhino expanded into child soldiers, peace talks and other matters.”

As much a diplomat as a conservationist, Anthony negotiated peace and cooperative agreements among African rebels and their governments, scientists and land developers, and various belligerent African tribes, all to help protect some of the continent’s rarest species of charismatic megafauna. It is because of his dedication and enthusiasm that most militant and warring groups understand that parks and other protected areas are off limits as war zones.

Courtesy of Lawrence Anthony


During his time in Iraq, he helped rescue scores of animals, including Hussein family’s exotic pets, that were otherwise forgotten by both the invading United States and the local Iraqis. This included tracking down thieves and smugglers, buying food for the carnivores, and cleaning and repairing cages.

“American soldiers who were fighting all day would come back and put down their M-16s and help us in the zoo, and I had the Iraqi Republican Guard[…] coming, as well,” Anthony told Izilwane. “Outside of the zoo, they’re shooting the hell out of each other, inside the zoo they were helping each other, and that is the effect of people wanting to be with and help the animals.”

He wrote about these experiences in the 2007 account Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo.

Anthony is survived not only by his loving family, but also by the countless animals whose lives he touched in so many ways.

Courtesy of Lawrence Anthony

Some reports indicate that even the very elephants he helped rescue on the Thula Thula Reserve in South Africa came to pay respects to their fallen comrade. After being absent from the lodge for more than a year, the herd ambled for twelve hours to say goodbye.

Read more about Lawrence Anthony’s work in his interview with Izilwane, found here. You can find Izilwane’s review of his book The Elephant Whisperer here.

— Kathryn Pardo


Voices for Biodiversity (V4B) is an online conservation media magazine that shares the stories of people from around the globe in order to help all species survive and thrive together. The e-zine is a gathering place for those who believe that humanity’s health and well-being depend upon the health and well-being of other species and the ecosystems that support us all. Voices for Biodiversity shares the stories of eco-reporters from around the world, using the ancient human art of storytelling to connect people with each other, other species, and the natural world. The magazine’s goal is to alter human behavior in such a way as to connect the human animal with the global ecosystem in order to stem biodiversity loss and arrest the sixth extinction of species taking place in this time, the Age of the Anthropocene.
  • Linda McGuire

    It is with heavy heart that I give my deepest sympathies to the family of Lawrence Anthony. After visiting Thula Thula and meeting Mr. Anthony only 4 months ago, I am deeply saddened as well for his elephants especially Nana. They will miss him immensely. I hope we will all have the opportunity to see the movie he was planning – “Good Luck Mr. Anthony”. Mr. Anthony, this was not your time to go!!

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  • Jenni Markey

    A sad farewell…my condolences to Mr. Anthony’s family. I have spent many wonderful hours with his books. I will treasure the memory of him and the pleasure his books gave. RIP.

  • Harriett Bell

    My dream was to go to Africa ,the closest I have come is the joy and empathy I felt reading Mr.Anthonys books .I could even feel Nanas slobber I am so sad .His wife was his ROCK Sincere love and sympathy to his family which includes all his animals

  • Jackie Morrison

    My deepest sympathies go out to Francoise, Dylan and Jason. I have literally, minutes ago, finished reading The Last Rhinos, which I borrowed from the Library. I had to wait 3 mths for it to become available, and wasn’t allowed to renew it, as there are many others after me on the list.
    I used to read his other books before I went to work. I couldn’t put them down, and was sometimes late, but that’s the impact they had on me, I had to read the next page.
    Thank you for all you did on behalf of the animals. Rest in peace, your great work will always be appreciated.

  • Leseli Letseka

    Someone convinced me to read the Elephant Whisperer, only a couple of days ago, I could not put it down it touched me deeply, a year later when trying to locate Thula to visit I learn via internet that Lawrence passed on about a year ago, I was devasted, I would have loved to have met this great man with such compassion who has left us too soon.Deepest symapthies to his family even though it more that a year later.

  • Suzanne Hopkins

    Firstly, I am deeply saddened that Lawrence Anthony is no longer with us, although I am sure he is within the spirit of the animal kingdom. I have just literally finished “The Elephant Whisperer” and being thoroughly elated at having read my first book in a very long time I quickly looked up on the web more details about him and the work he has done. I am so glad I did. Now I am yearning for more of the same. I wish I could have said thank you to him more directly. He is sadly missed but Thula Thula is a legacy to be proud of.

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