The Elephant Listener

Words and music  Creative Commons License 2017 by Jim Bearden

This song is based on the three books written by Lawrence Anthony, a South African conservationist who established the Thula Thula Game Reserve. His main book, The Elephant Whisperer, tells the story of the “rogue” herd of elephants which he took on the job of saving from execution, and grew to know and love. In his own words, though, “The title of this book is not about me…it is about the elephants. It was they who whispered to me and taught me how to listen.” He also talked about learning from them, rather than teaching them:  “They taught me that all life forms are important to each other in our common quest for happiness and survival. That there is more to life than just yourself, your own family, or your own kind.” From this realization came the first verse of this song, and the change in the title. His other two books, Babylon’s Ark, about his attempts to rescue the remaining animals in the Baghdad Zoo after the U.S. attack on Iraq, and The Last Rhinos, about his efforts to save the last Northern White rhinos (and his mission to the Lord’s Resistance Army (L.R.A.), the feared guerrilla group which seemed to be the last hope of saving the rhinos), are briefly summarized in the second verse. Since there is no way to do justice to his stories in the short space of a song, however, I would urge you to read all three books, for that is the only way to appreciate the life and the contributions of this remarkable man. As the third verse says, he died in 2012 of a heart attack, a tremendous loss to the world, but his legacy lives on in the work of the Thula Thula Game Reserve, now part of the Royal Zulu Biosphere. As he told us, I believe we still have a lot to learn from the elephants, and from everything else in the natural world.

Verse 1:
When he answered the phone, he was told he alone
Could save an elephant herd from being killed.
Then the elephants ran, and though they came back again,
He saw his mission still unfulfilled.
So he talked to their leader, he begged and he pleaded,
One more run, and they’d all be dead.
But as he talked to the herd, told them what he preferred,
He found he’d learned from them instead: That…

None survive alone —
It’s a lesson that Nature’s been teaching forever:
That we’re all in this together;
That none survive alone.

Verse 2:
In the war in Iraq, the zoo came under attack,
So he went there to do what he could.
He sneaked into Baghdad, gave it all that he had,
He found he still could do some good.
Then the rhinos were dying, and everything he was trying,
Led him to the threat of the L.R.A.
But he was told by his wife that he still could save lives,
So he pursued it all the way. Because…


Verse 3:
And now he is gone, but his spirit lives on,
As a guiding light to us all.
This earth we’ve been given can be our kind of heaven,
Or a hell, if we let it fall.
We must learn how to care, stop polluting the air,
Stop killing life on the land and the seas;
So let’s learn to live for the ages; let’s empty those cages;
And let’s all come together in peace. Because…


No, none survive alone.

Dedicated to the memory of Lawrence Anthony, 1950-2012, and to the continuing work of  Francoise Malby-Anthony and the rest of the Thula Thula family.

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