April 30th, 2012
In a world where the term ‘conservationist' has become practically synonymous with crazy Green Peace sort of antics -you know the chaining-oneself-to-a-tree or rowing-up-to-looming-fishing-trawlers-in-a-rubber-dinghy kind - the real heroes, bravely going about their serious business, often go unnoticed.
Up until 2009 the late Lawrence Anthony counted among these. Although he had made news headlines in 2003 when he penetrated the Baghdad warzone to help save the shellshocked animals of the Iraqi capital's zoo, it wasn't until he penned The Elephant Whisperer that he came to world-wide prominence.
The best-seller tells the real-life story of a herd of problematic, rogue elephant that Anthony granted sanctuary on his Thula Thula Game Reserve. Not only did he build a special bond with these magnificent creatures, but the book suggests that their unique family ties and interaction within the herd taught him a lot about life itself. Anthony and his elephants not only captured imaginations and won hearts around the world - and continue to do so - the story also touched many-a raw nerve in conservation circles.
Within a matter of months he practically became a household name, so much so that when news of his untimely death made headlines earlier this year, social media platforms, newspaper op-ed pieces and magazine features were rife with heart-felt tributes and regrets.
A man of the bush through and through, a conservationist extraordinaire and a story-teller, it seemed completely wrong and out of sync that Lawrence's end had come in the form of a heart attack in an urban hotel room. He passed away in his sleep on 02 March 2011 in Johannesburg - his city of birth in 1950 - far too many kilometers away from his beloved Thula Thula Game Reserve and precious pachyderms.
I happened to be reading his second book, Babylon's Ark: The Incredible War-time rescue of the Baghdad Zoo at the time and was highly emotionally involved, to the point that news of his death left me feeling like I had lost one of my own. A sentiment shared by many all over the country and the world.
Fortunately Anthony had not only been building a conservation legacy in the form of the Earth Organisation - now aptly renamed the Lawrence Anthony Foundation - but was also busy with the finishing touches to his final novel, The Last Rhinos.
Published posthumously, the novel has made its way right to the top of best-selling lists, and tells the story of Anthony and co's wild journey into deepest, darkest reaches of Congo's Garamba National Park to save the last remaining Northern White Rhino.
Relating their struggles and frustrations with dead-end African bureaucracy, meetings with the spine-chilling leadership of the Lord's Resistance Army - LRA (now also a household name in the wake of Invisible Children's Kony 2012), and encounters with awesome creatures both there and back home at Thula Thula, the book is nothing less than the ultimate magnum opus.
Not to mention an invaluable document and reminder of the tragedy that can happen if we don't act efficiently in a time when the slaughter of our rhinos has become commonplace.
With more than 135 rhinos killed in the reserves and national parks across the country this year alone, there's no denying that poaching has reached a crisis point. Anthony was quite clear in his approach to the problem: we are way beyond quick fix solution theories such as harvesting horns and flooding the Asian market.
"There is no silver bullet for rhino poaching. The only thing that will make a difference is if South Africans get together and protect them as one man," he once said.
In short, the fate of a species is up to us. All of us. So what are we going to do?
With The Last Rhinos selling like hot cakes, the Earth Organisation has called upon all readers to join in their cause, check out their website to find out more.
Take a look at the poignant video trailer for the Last Rhinos
A few other good rhino protection causes to be aware of:
- Saving Private Rhino
- Black Rhino Range Expansion Project
- Project Rhino KZN
- Wilderness Foundation's Rhino Protection initiative
- Wildlife ACT
- Nambiti Hills Rhino Project
Want to win a copy of Lawrence Anthony's Last Rhinos courtesy of Kalahari.com?
Enter our competition by sending your answer to the following question to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Last Rhinos GT24 Competition."
Where did Lawrence Anthony and Co go to save the last of the Northern White Rhinos?