Francoise Malby-Anthony is an established author and the owner of a game reserve in South Africa. Although she’s written previous books about this reserve, The Elephants of Thula-Thula is the first of her books that I’ve read. My thanks go to Net Galley and Macmillan Audio for the review copy; this book is for sale now.
As I begin listening to the audiobook, I am not sure I like it much. After a brief passage about elephants, the author segues into a longer piece about rhinos and by the time she admits that the rhinos are her favorites, I mutter, “No kidding!” There are other passages in which she gushes about the refuge’s well-heeled but generous donors, and I’m beginning to feel as if this is the sort of book that people will buy because the refuge is a good cause, but nobody will actually learn anything or even enjoy it much.
About halfway in, though, I have a change of heart. The second half is much better than the first. She discusses throughout the book the challenges posed to the refuge by the pandemic, and she talks about the measures taken to remain solvent while also keeping her employees whole. There is actually more talk about elephants now. I confess I am jarred by the moment when a favorite animal dies (no spoilers) and she tells us that this is the worst grief of her entire life. She says this not too long after explaining that the reserve’s founder, her husband, has recently died, and so my head snaps up when the tells us that the loss of the animal is the worst. I am chalking it up to hyperbole, but if I were the editor, I’d suggest a rewording.
Nevertheless, there are wonderful anecdotes about the elephants, and of course the rhinos, as well as the addition of a cheetah. She discusses baboons—I’d never fully realized how scary they can be—and I enjoyed hearing about how one goes about moving a giraffe to another location. There’s a lot more about elephants in the second half, and she discusses the threat to the herd when some bureaucrats add up the acreage and decide that there are too many elephants here, and some must be either moved out or “culled” (which means, of course, killed!) The reserve is expanded, but it takes a whole lot of jockeying and maneuvering to carry it off.
Readers that have enjoyed Malby-Anthony’s earlier books, or that have a strong interest in wildlife preserves may enjoy this book greatly, and it is to them that I recommend it.