For the love of ELEPHANTS, meet Françoise Malby-Anthony, the passionate woman who keeps the late Elephant Whisperer’s legacy alive – and more, writes Katrine Anker-Nilssen.
“Conservation is key to conservation, and we need to inspire future generations to raise awareness on environmental issues and the necessity to protect endangered species,” says Françoise.
With the elephants visiting Françoise at the main house after Lawrence passed away, she sensed the importance of the need to carry on. “It was as if they were trying to tell me something. And it was a powerful message: I was not alone, I had a family to look after, I had a responsibility that I could not give up,” says Françoise. “The legacy was now in my hands, and this gave me direction and purpose.”
The elephants’ presence and returning visits encouraged Françoise to lead the Thula Thula team to where they are now, despite all storms, conflicts, and numerous challenges. “There is never a dull moment, always something unexpected happening,” says Françoise. “But I am blessed to be working with a wonderful team who have been with me for many years and share my passion and vision for Thula Thula and its conservation projects.”
The expansion of Thula Thula, with some private and some community land for elephant habitat, is one of the most exciting projects currently on the go. “We have almost reached our maximum capacity in terms of habitat for our special elephant family, and had to implement a reversible male elephant contraception program a few years ago to allow controlled breeding,” explains Françoise. “With this expansion, our special herd will be able to enjoy much-needed bigger space and renewed happy family life with new births.”
The development will also improve employment and education in the local communities involved – with more land to protect and manage. “Twenty kilometers of new fencing, essential access roads, extra security, guards training and equipment, land management, removing non-indigenous plants and trees… the list is endless,” says Françoise.
The introduction of a new endangered species is also on the cards – still confidential at this stage, but to be revealed soon. “We are also planning to introduce more rhinos to increase our rhino population,” says Françoise.
After the reserve’s last rhino, Heidi, was slaughtered for her horn in 2009, Thula Thula adopted two baby orphans called Thabo and Ntombi – and hand-reared them until they were 18 months old. “They were then released into the reserve under 24/7 surveillance by armed guards. In 2013 their horns were infused with a special dye to further protect them, and in 2016 we were forced to take the drastic measure of removing their horns,” says Françoise. In 2017 satellite and GPS tracking collars were also fitted on the rhinos.
“Despite the tragedy of our rhino orphanage in February 2017, where two of our orphan rhinos, Impi and Gugu, were slaughtered by poachers for their horns, we decided not to give up on our actions to save more rhinos,” says Françoise. “In May last year we acquired two female rhinos, mother and daughter Mona and Lisa, with the vision of creating a growing rhino family at Thula Thula. Sadly, Lisa passed away in January of a viral infection. But in March we had the most amazing surprise when Mona gave birth to a baby girl,” beams Françoise. “We named her Sissi, short for Busisiwe in Zulu, which means blessing.”
With a woman like Françoise at the helm, the fighting spirit of Lawrence and Thula Thula will never cease. “I have learnt that adversity and tragedy have a way of opening doors to new roads of hope and opportunities, and that the most important thing when faced with difficulty is the way we respond to it,” says Françoise.
FOR MORE INFO: Thula Thula has created a fun and extremely popular adoption program to assist with fundraising for their conservation projects. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.thulathula.com for more information.