From Paris to the wild African bush…
Better known as the elephant whisperer, Lawrence died in 2012, leaving Francoise to run the couple’s popular Thula Thula game reserve. Set on the banks of the Enseleni River, deep in the heart of Zululand a mere two hours from Durban, Francoise has made it clear that she intends to continue the work that she and Lawrence started 20 years ago. She’s also about to launch her own book, An elephant in my Kitchen which is a follow up to Lawrence’s bestseller The Elephant Whisperer.
Sitting with her in the middle of the bushveld and listening to her talk of her love for this place she has made her home and her reason for living, Francoise’s strong French accent makes one more aware of what she left behind to settle in South Africa. Born in Montpellier in the south of France, she moved to Paris where she was living when she first met Lawrence. In Paris, she was head of the export department of the French Chamber of Commerce.
When she first moved to South Africa, they lived in Durban for 10 years and Francoise spent time working in the fashion industry where she designed leather belts and bags. They bought Thula Thula in 1998 and Francoise immediately put her talents to work in developing the hospitality side of the business in the form of the four star Elephant Safari Lodge and later, the Luxury Tented Camp where she now employs 70 staff members drawn mostly from the local village of Buchanana.
She has a flair for languages and speaks French, English, Spanish and Italian and is also a cordon bleu chef. It is because of her influences that the Elephant Safari Lodge has become known for its Franco-Zulu cuisine. However, her energies are focused on the plight of wildlife and she puts all her efforts into raising awareness and fighting the scourge of poachers.
“The only way to conservation is through educating people,” she says on a drive through the dense green bush searching for Thabo, a rhino that was rescued and sent to the reserve when he was just three months old.
“When I first arrived at Thula Thula 20 years ago I had no clue what we were doing here. I remember standing at the stove cooking rice one night when a snake fell onto the stove. I got such a fright and the first thing I said to the security guard at the main house was the first word I had learnt in Zulu ‘bulala’ (kill the snake!). Today, I would never kill a snake because I understand that it is part of our eco system. I don’t even kill spiders, in fact, I don’t kill anything. I look at the people in Europe where they still think we need to kill bugs and bees, and the only way to eradicate that kind of thinking is through education.
Game ranger Siya agrees and says that locals also need to understand that if there is no wildlife, there will be no tourists. “Some people still see Impala as meat and not as one of the reasons why foreigners choose to visit South Africa,” he said.
“You never stop learning in Africa. Like philanthropist Howard Buffet once said. If you help animals, you help humans. People must understand that in 20 years’ time there could be no more rhinos, lions, giraffe or hippos. Twenty years is nothing,” she said.
“We have to teach young and old that the preservation of our wildlife is important and create more awareness of the plight of our wildlife. Parents need to teach their children and we need to use social media to get people talking.”
Creating awareness is why Francoise established the Volunteers Camp where people from all over the world can come and volunteer to help with the reserve’s various conservation projects. “We have people from all over the world and South Africa coming here to work and see what it takes to keep a place like this going and how great the need is to help African wildlife survive. There is no money in conservation, there are no profits, it all goes back into conservation.
Thula Thula relies on the money generated by the sale of Lawrence’s books and now the eagerly awaited follow up Francoise has written, An Elephant in My kitchen – What the herd taught me about love, courage and survival.
The book tells the tale of how Francoise and Thula Thula survived and thrived and how the elephant herd, rescued by Lawrence years ago, has shared Francoise’s grief at his passing and over time, forged a new relationship with her.
“The story behind the book started one day when a 10-day-old elephant calf, Tom, wandered into the living room. She was named after the Safari Lodge’s chef who discovered the lost elephant. We think Tom had walked at least 5km before ending up in my living room. We can’t explain why she was so far from the herd of about 25 elephants and can only assume that she had been distracted and accidentally separated from the herd,” she said.
She has wonderful stories to share about her experiences with the elephants and many of them have found their way into the pages of her book that comes out first week of August.
Francoise will be at Exclusive books at Gateway shopping centre from 6PM to 8PM on the 23rd of August, for signing copies.
Courtesy of Thula Thula, we are giving one of our lucky readers a chance to win a 2 night stay at Thula Thula Game reserve. To enter click here http://durban.getitonline.co.za/2018/07/30/win-weekend-thula-thula/#.W17UksKxXVg
Durban Get It Magazine Nobember 2018Kajal Maharaj : Soapie Star