A Tale of Resilience & Compassion: How a Widow and a Herd of Elephants Found Solace in Each Other

When Françoise MalbyAnthony recounts the memorable tale of a four-ton elephant named Frankie trespassing into her South African garden, you can’t help but feel a sense of thrill and fear.

This thrilling encounter, part of Françoise’s captivating chronicle of managing the Thula Thula private game reserve, offers a glimpse into the unpredictable life of living with these majestic creatures.

Frankie was no stranger to Françoise. Their bond formed when Françoise took in a baby elephant named Tom, which she described in her previous book, ‘An Elephant In My Kitchen.’

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Yet, dealing with Frankie, a formidable 46-year-old herd matriarch, posed new challenges due to her size and strength.

Francoise Malby-Anthony's first book, An Elephant In My Kitchen, recounted how she¿d rescued and nurtured an orphaned baby elephant called Tom
Francoise Malby-Anthony’s first book, An Elephant In My Kitchen, recounted how she’d rescued and nurtured an orphaned baby elephant called Tom.

Françoise paints an intriguing picture of life in a South African game reserve – a blend of admiration for the animals she cares for and fear of their might.

Frankie and a beloved rhinoceros named Thabo, known for his penchant for crushing cars, personified this balance.

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Françoise humorously describes Thabo’s car-destroying tendencies as ‘vehicular destruction,’ treating him like a rebellious teenager. To curb his aggression, she introduces a female rhino, Rambo, hoping she would capture Thabo’s heart.

The French conservationist opened Thula Thula Game Reserve in South Africa in 1999 with her late husband Lawrence Anthony
The French conservationist opened Thula Thula Game Reserve in South Africa in 1999 with her late husband Lawrence Anthony.

However, life at the reserve often resembles a soap opera, and Rambo, rather unexpectedly, pairs off with Thabo’s best friend, Ntombi.

The Paris-born Françoise, initially an expert in selecting the finest pains au chocolat, fell in love with South Africa, its land, and its elephants after her husband Lawrence brought her there 34 years ago.

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In her heartwarming account, she narrates her unique journey and the love story unfolding in the wild. Lawrence remembered for his daring animal rescue mission during the 2003 Iraq war, built a dam at Thula Thula to provide water for elephants who had strayed due to drought.

For three years running, on the exact anniversary of her beloved husband Lawrence¿s premature death in 2012, the herd came up to the perimeter fencing round her house to pay their respects to him
For three years running, on the exact anniversary of her beloved husband Lawrence’s premature death in 2012, the herd came up to the perimeter fencing around her house to pay their respects to him.

Their return transformed the area into a vibrant wildlife haven. Françoise’s vivid depiction of the elephants’ empathetic nature, both among themselves and towards their human caretakers, is truly enchanting.

The elephants’ annual tribute to Lawrence was the most touching display of this empathy. Every year, on the anniversary of his premature death in 2012, the herd would gather near her home to pay their respects.

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However, life at the reserve is not without its heartache. Françoise and the herd mourn the loss of Frankie, the matriarch, who succumbs to a liver disease despite their best efforts to nurse her back to health. The herd’s struggle to appoint a new matriarch between candidates Marula and Nandi adds a dramatic layer to the narrative.

You¿d think all this animal drama would be quite enough to keep Françoise busy, and indeed it would, but she also has other horrible things to contend with
You’d think all this animal drama would be quite enough to keep Françoise busy, and indeed it would, but she also has other horrible things to contend with.
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In addition to managing the intricate dynamics of the reserve’s inhabitants, Françoise confronts various external challenges.

Rhinos’ horns, fetching up to $90,000 per kilo on the black market, attract ruthless poachers. Françoise’s fight against this brutal trade included establishing a rhino orphanage in 2014, which was sadly attacked, resulting in the death of two baby rhinos.

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Adding to her worries, South African authorities pressured her to expand her reserve or cull some of her elephants, a proposal Françoise found ludicrous. Miraculously, she merged Thula Thula with a neighboring reserve, creating an underpass allowing animals to roam freely between the two.

Just when life seemed to be getting back on track, the Covid-19 pandemic hit, leading to the disappearance of safari guests, Thula Thula’s primary source of income. Despite the financial strain, Françoise kept her staff employed and focused on enhancing the reserve’s fencing.

Yet, as the world adapted to the “new normal,” so did Thula Thula. A glimmer of hope emerged as local visitors were allowed during a subsequent ‘soft’ lockdown. Amid the trials and tribulations, life at the reserve continued, and the saga of Thabo’s unsuccessful love life added another twist to the tale.

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Françoise’s narrative compels us to acknowledge the resilience and interdependence of humans and animals amidst trials and tribulations, igniting a deep affection for Lawrence, the land, and the elephants, while evoking an equally deep disdain for poachers, bureaucracy, and lockdowns.

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