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With his mother and sister shot before his eyes, Mnumzane grew up with an understandable aversion to humans. He also had a propensity for escaping from his reserve and it wasn’t until conservationist Lawrence Anthony (The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild, 2009) agreed to transfer the remainder of the family to his 5,000-acre reserve (600 miles away) that his safety and well-being was improved. However, during capture and transport to the new home, the new matriarch of the family was “unavoidably” shot, and Mnumzane was not only left motherless, but also ejected of the herd.
Lacking the usual role model and despite his early experiences with humans, Mnumzane became surprisingly attached to Anthony. Over years, he would greet Anthony with a great friendly affection – whether on foot or in his Land Rover. As their friendship grew (and Mnumzane’s size to almost 11 feet/ 3.4meters high!), there was no reason for Anthony to doubt the safety of his guests.
However, one day, something was different. Knowing that Mnumzane was in musth (a sexual condition in which testosterone levels shoot up by over 50 times), Anthony attempted to avoid interaction with the elephant by backing up the Land Rover. Surprisingly, Mnumzane went on attack and flipped the Land Rover over and over. Then, soon after and with the passengers in deep shock, Mnumzane suddenly started to calmly extract the remnants of glass from the window of the now-destroyed vehicle, reach into the cab, and caress Anthony’s head and shoulders with his trunk.
While no one was seriously injured, the episode upset Anthony for it was one of several acts of unpredictability in which Mnumzane had reacted over the past months. Doubts about Mnumzane started to grow, as the safety of the guests, workers and other animals became a great concern. The scarring of Mnumzane and memories of early interactions with humans seemed to have been too great to overcome. And so it was with an extremely heavy heart and as a last resort decision that Anthony put him down.
Tragically, it was only then that the probable explanation for Mnumzane’s fits of rage was discovered: an infected tusk, which must have caused him excruciating pain – especially when the Land Rover brushed against the throbbing tusk.
Exposure to violence. Trauma. Challenges of adolescence. Social isolation. Absence of role models. Physical pain. And still an innocent gentle giant. That’s all too many reasons, why we want to bow to this incredible tusker — and keep his spirit alive by naming a new batch: Mnumzane.
Photo copyright and text: The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild, 2009