Game Reserves

17. June 2018

Photo credit: Thula Thula game reserve / Baby elephant walking with his mother, sisters, aunts and cousins

Game reserves differ from sanctuaries in that they provide a protected habitat for existing flora and fauna. Consequently, game reserves for wild elephants are predominantly located in such regions as Southern and Southwestern Asia and most of Africa, where some of their natural habitat has not yet been destroyed by ever increasing human pressure.

Before the days of eco-tourism, when wildlife was considered inexhaustible, game reserves were mostly used for hunting. Some of these still exist, but are rapidly disappearing due to public backlash to trophy hunting and poaching.

Concerned conservationists, particularly in Africa, in conjunction with as many as 30 African countries, have for some time explored what can be done to protect at least part of Africa’s extraordinary wildlife.  Some of these efforts have culminated in setting up and operating successful national parks such as the Kruger Park in South Africa and many private game reserves, which welcome tourists from all over the world to observe (rather than to kill) wild animals, while providing long-term revenues for Africans working and protecting the bio-diversity within such reserves.

In 1999, the Thula Thula private game reserve in South Africa was asked to accept a herd of wild elephants, a herd that had continuously broken out of protected areas in the north of South Africa, creating havoc in the surrounding countryside by refusing to be contained within the boundaries of a reserve.

Photo credit : Thula Thula Game Reserve / The herd at Thula Thula

The offer to Thula Thula included the threat to kill the entire herd, if by a certain close date, nobody would take responsibility for these “rogue ” and dangerous elephants. At the time the Thula Thula reserve did not have any elephants living in the reserve, but the founder of the reserve, Lawrence Antony, decided to welcome the herd in spite of its terrible reputation.

How the Thula Thula staff, and particularly Lawrence Anthony, learned to understand enough of elephant nature, at which point the elephants after several escapes, decided to stay, is the well documented story in Lawrence Anthony’s and Graham Spencer’s best selling book, The Elephant Whisperer. *

After reading this book, people from all over the world have come to visit Thula Thula to share some of the adventures of this herd of wild elephants. Of course, the real adventures in all of this were those of Lawrence Anthony, who learned so much from the elephants that he did not like the current title for the book proposed by the editors, because he knew that the elephants had done most of the whispering into Lawrence’s ears and not the other way around.

Photo credit: Thula Thula Game Reserve / The herd on a visit outside the main house garden ready to settle down for a longer rest

Lawrence Anthony died of a sudden heart attack in March of 2012, and today his wife and Thula Thula co-founder, Françoise Malby Anthony, courageously continues to direct the reserve. The “rogue,” but still wild elephants have become part of her family as illustrated by some of the images in this posting.

Photo credit: Thula Thula Game Reserve /Finally settled down in front of the main house

The reserve is fenced in, but to elephants this fencing is flimsy enough for them to take down without too much difficulty if they wanted to escape. But the approximately 40 members of the herd understand that at Thula Thula there are humans they can trust and that protect them. And make no mistake about it, these elephants know only too well that not all humans have their best interest in mind. Their ability to distinguish between well intended and dangerous humans is only one indication of their superior intelligence.

Photo credit: Kit Jackson / Elephant at Thula Thula game reserve, content to feed across the border fence without any interest to leave the reserve



  • The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence, latest updated edition published in 2017 by Pan Books, imprint of Pan Macmillan

    ©️ Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence 2009