An unforgettable homage


By Joyce Holdread | PREVIEW Columnist

I believe a mysterious essence connects all of life. We are familiar with stories of dogs that possess the uncanny awareness of when a person bearing mal intent appears. They subsequently warn whoever will listen, perhaps even saving lives. Or the dogs that can “read” their master’s discouragement and snuggle up to offer comfort. Also, horses that veer from their rider’s intended way and will not be persuaded to continue as their mount directs. Sooner or later, it’s discovered that the horse sensed some catastrophe up ahead and circumvented the danger for both her master and herself. 

But the most amazing story of animal ESP I have recently read about comes from an article in “Guideposts” (June/July 2022) concerning a herd of elephants in South Africa. 

A man named Lawrence, who lived on an old game reserve with his wife, had turned it into a haven where various kinds of wildlife could roam freely. All the locals referred to him as the Elephant Whisperer after he saved a group of “delinquent” elephants. These enormous mammals kept bursting their prescribed boundaries and running amuck through areas of human habitation, causing much damage and danger for the people of the region. The animals were about to be euthanized, but Lawrence intervened. 

Although he had no background study of free-roaming African elephants, he began regular visits to them, going far into the bush. To gain their trust, he set up a tent and lived among them, almost bringing about his own demise from trampling. He listened to them and conversed with them. He intoned melodies to them. He cared for them. Gradually, the herd accepted him. He was able to forge a deep connection with them. They ceased running rampant and settled peacefully within his game preserve. They were home 

Their bond was based on affection, respect and trust. Sometimes Nana, the matriarch, would reach out to him with her trunk and gently stroke his face, as though he were her calf. 

The herd grew and so did the perimeter of the game preserve. In his early 60s, Lawrence made a trip to Johannesburg to investigate the further development of the preserve. Previously, he had had two heart attacks, but flew to this business meeting against the doctor’s orders. A few days later, just before he was slated to return home, he had a third attack. This one ended his life.

Two days later, the elephants came to pay their respects. They lined up solemnly along the other side of the fence that surrounded Lawrence’s house. They looked intently at his wife and the staff as if waiting for the appearance of something. After an hour or so in this stance, they began stomping along the length of the fence line with a distressing rumble issuing from their mouths. His wife remembered this was their way of “conversing” with Lawrence during his visits with them in the bush. Finally, they formed a somber line and singularly filed back to where they came from.

While this is eerily remarkable enough, we have all likely heard of the prowess of elephant memory. On March 4, the one-year anniversary of Lawrence’s death, the elephants came back. The matriarch led the solemn march as they repeated their same lament. Then, next year’s March 4, they returned again, and also the following March 4 saw them re-enact their homage.

How did the great beasts discern his death? Of what significance is this for us? Lawrence himself preferred to be known as the Elephant Listener, saying he had no extraordinary ability; he just “listened.” 

Perhaps that is a key: We need to wrest time from our frenetic lives to humbly and lovingly watch and listen — through the scriptures, our human companions and the astounding natural world all around us — for the whispers of our Creator who connects and sustains all life.

This column may include both fiction and nonfiction, and views expressed do not necessarily represent those of The SUN. Submissions can be sent to