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Rescued elephant herds inexplicably gather to mourn South Africa’s “Elephant Whisperer”

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For 12 hours, two herds of wild South African elephants slowly made their way through the Zululand bush until they reached the house of late author Lawrence Anthony, the conservationist who had saved their lives.

The formerly violent, rogue elephants, destined to be shot a few years ago as pests, had been rescued and rehabilitated by Anthony, who had grown up in the bush and was known as the “Elephant Whisperer.”

For two days the herds loitered at Anthony’s rural compound on the vast Thula Thula game reserve – to say good-bye to the man they loved. But how did they know he had died March 7?

Known for his unique ability to calm traumatized elephants, Anthony had become a legend. He is the author of three books, Baghdad Ark, detailing his efforts to rescue the animals at Baghdad Zoo during the Iraqi war, the forthcoming The Last Rhinos, and his bestselling The Elephant Whisperer.

There are two elephant herds at Thula Thula. According to his son Dylan, both arrived at the  Anthony family compound shortly after the author’s death.

“They had not visited the house for a year and a half and it must have taken them about 12 hours to make the journey,” Dylan is quoted in various local news accounts. “The first herd arrived on Sunday and the second herd, a day later. They all hung around for about two days before making their way back into the bush.”

Elephants have long been known to mourn their dead. In India, baby elephants often are raised with a boy who will be their lifelong “mahout.” The pair develop legendary bonds – and it is not uncommon for one to waste away without a will to live after the death of the other.

A line of elephants approach the Anthony house (Photo courtesy of the Anthony family)

But these are wild elephants in the 21st century, not some Rudyard Kipling novel.

The first herd to arrive at Thula Thula several years ago were violent. They hated humans. Anthony found himself fighting a desperate battle for their survival and their trust, which he detailed in The Elephant Whisperer:

“It was 4:45 a.m. and I was standing in front of Nana, an enraged wild elephant, pleading with her in desperation. Both our lives depended on it. The only thing separating us was an 8,000-volt electric fence that she was preparing to flatten and make her escape.

“Nana, the matriarch of her herd, tensed her enormous frame and flared her ears.

“’Don’t do it, Nana,’ I said, as calmly as I could. She stood there, motionless but tense. The rest of the herd froze.

“’This is your home now,’ I continued. ‘Please don’t do it, girl.’

I felt her eyes boring into me.

Anthony, Nana and calf (Photo courtesy of the Anthony family)

“’They’ll kill you all if you break out. This is your home now. You have no need to run any more.’

“Suddenly, the absurdity of the situation struck me,” Anthony writes. “Here I was in pitch darkness, talking to a wild female elephant with a baby, the most dangerous possible combination, as if we were having a friendly chat. But I meant every word. ‘You will all die if you go. Stay here. I will be here with you and it’s a good place.’

“She took another step forward. I could see her tense up again, preparing to snap the electric wire and be out, the rest of the herd smashing after her in a flash.

“I was in their path, and would only have seconds to scramble out of their way and climb the nearest tree. I wondered if I would be fast enough to avoid being trampled. Possibly not.

“Then something happened between Nana and me, some tiny spark of recognition, flaring for the briefest of moments. Then it was gone. Nana turned and melted into the bush. The rest of the herd followed. I couldn’t explain what had happened between us, but it gave me the first glimmer-of hope since the elephants had first thundered into my life.”

Elephants gathering at the Anthony home (Photo courtesy of the Anthony family)

It had all started several weeks earlier with a phone call from an elephant welfare organization. Would Anthony be interested in adopting a problem herd of wild elephants? They lived on a game reserve 600 miles away and were “troublesome,” recalled Anthony.

“They had a tendency to break out of reserves and the owners wanted to get rid of them fast. If we didn’t take them, they would be shot.

“The woman explained, ‘The matriarch is an amazing escape artist and has worked out how to break through electric fences. She just twists the wire around her tusks until it snaps, or takes the pain and smashes through.’

“’Why me?’ I asked.

“’I’ve heard you have a way with animals. You’re right for them. Or maybe they’re right for you.’”

What followed was heart-breaking. One of the females and her baby were shot and killed in the round-up, trying to evade capture.

The French version of "The Elephant Whisperer"

When the survivors arrived, “they were thumping the inside of the trailer like a gigantic drum. We sedated them with a pole-sized syringe, and once they had calmed down, the door slid open and the matriarch emerged, followed by her baby bull, three females and an 11-year-old bull.”

Last off was the 15-year-old son of the dead mother. “He stared at us,” writes Anthony, “flared his ears and with a trumpet of rage, charged, pulling up just short of the fence in front of us.

“His mother and baby sister had been shot before his eyes, and here he was, just a teenager, defending his herd. David, my head ranger, named him Mnumzane, which in Zulu means ‘Sir’. We christened the matriarch Nana, and the second female-in-command, the most feisty, Frankie, after my wife.

“We had erected a giant enclosure within the reserve to keep them safe until they became calm enough to move out into the reserve proper.

“Nana gathered her clan, loped up to the fence and stretched out her trunk, touching the electric wires. The 8,000-volt charge sent a jolt shuddering through her bulk. She backed off. Then, with her family in tow, she strode the entire perimeter of the enclosure, pointing her trunk at the wire to check for vibrations from the electric current.

“As I went to bed that night, I noticed the elephants lining up along the fence, facing out towards their former home. It looked ominous. I was woken several hours later by one of the reserve’s rangers, shouting, ‘The elephants have gone! They’ve broken out!’ The two adult elephants had worked as a team to fell a tree, smashing it onto the electric fence and then charging out of the enclosure.

“I scrambled together a search party and we raced to the border of the game reserve, but we were too late. The fence was down and the animals had broken out.

“They had somehow found the generator that powered the electric fence around the reserve. After trampling it like a tin can, they had pulled the concrete-embedded fence posts out of the ground like matchsticks, and headed north.”

The reserve staff chased them – but had competition. “We met a group of locals carrying large caliber rifles, who claimed the elephants were ‘fair game’ now. On our radios we heard the wildlife authorities were issuing elephant rifles to staff. It was now a simple race against time.”

Anthony managed to get the herd back onto Thula Thula property, but problems had just begun:

“Their bid for freedom had, if anything, increased their resentment at being kept in captivity. Nana watched my every move, hostility seeping from every pore, her family behind her. There was no doubt that sooner or later they were going to make another break for freedom.

“Then, in a flash, came the answer. I would live with the herd. To save their lives, I would stay with them, feed them, talk to them. But, most importantly, be with them day and night. We all had to get to know each other.”

It worked, as the book describes in detail, notes the London Daily Mail newspaper.

Anthony was later offered another troubled elephant — one that was all alone because the rest of her herd had been shot or sold, and which feared humans. He had to start the process all over again.

And as his reputation spread, more “troublesome” elephants were brought to Thula Thula.

So, how after Anthony’s death, did the reserve’s elephants — grazing miles away in distant parts of the park — know?

“A good man died suddenly,” says Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, Ph.D., “and from miles and miles away, two herds of elephants, sensing that they had lost a beloved human friend, moved in a solemn, almost ‘funereal’ procession to make a call on the bereaved family at the deceased man’s home.”

“If there ever were a time, when we can truly sense the wondrous ‘interconnectedness of all beings,’ it is when we reflect on the elephants of Thula Thula. A man’s heart’s stops, and hundreds of elephants’ hearts are grieving. This man’s oh-so-abundantly loving heart offered healing to these elephants, and now, they came to pay loving homage to their friend.”



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Lynn Nolan

    Hey Trump brothers — see what a magnificent creature you slaughtered for your pleasure?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ann

    Beautiful story–what a wonderful man he was. ♥

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ann

    Yes, Lynn Nolan, I wish the Trump brothers could read this–to see how elephants respond to members of their herds being shot–and how they become “troublesome.” What a shame they don’t care about how these animals live. :^(

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment eleanor Jones

    a truly touching account of how we cld live in harmony with animals if only we had the heart to love them. As an animal ..of all sorts…lover I have marveled at the love they give back to humans who are kind to them and not mean or threatening. Who likes to be hurt, beaten and misused after all?Infact most of my best friends have been and are my animal/pets.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment gloria sapp

    We so loved this man and his way with his ellies We will miss him greatly.He was truly the ellie whisper and it was only fitting and right his ellie family would come to pay their final respects to their family member R.I.P Lawerence the Ellie Whisperer

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Sandra

    We are ALL connected at the subatomic level & here we find Divine Consciousness at play…The ONE IS The Many The Many THE ONE. Watch the old film Mind Walk I am sure it will be on line, & The Biology of Consciousness by Bruce Lipton who discovered THE FORCE ~ THE ONE ~ GOD, call it what you will “Creator” through what he scientifically observed under the lense of a microscope. This is what makes our bodies’ breath, our hearts beat, our immunes work, thought precedes form we are at least the 5th petri dish on Planet Earth and we are now about to start the next “experiment” me thinks. Hold on for the ride. Mother Earth always wins in the end because she stays tuned intio the All that Is & works w it. Man instead with no regard for the interconnectivity of The All That IS, ploughs through it, cuts it down, poisons it poisons it poisons, kills it, damns it and damms it, & wars on it, & poaches it, & blows it up, & mines it & & & Pachamama is “it” a living sentient being Conscious & so wise & giving we have nothing without her as far as the 3D physical is concerned for without the elements, the minerals flower & flora of the earth we would not even have our bodies. Yet we still destroy this perfect balance this ecosphere of systems working in harmony. See Alan Watt on Nature’s squiggly lines & how man thinks & expresses in straight lines & woman in spirals. The Elephants are in tune with the “true net” even when the grid goes down! We all have the ability but the noise & distractions in modern life have suppressed this ability. Time to wake up & reconnect friends. Do what you can to protect the remaining elephants & wild creatures that man encroaches on daily in the forests jungles woods & plains. God Bless Us ALL.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Joel

    According to the bible ,animals have souls.

  • http://goodworx.com MarciaH

    What a truly beautiful and awe-inspiring story of love, loyalty and inter-species connection. Elephants are magnificent souls and so, apparently, was Lawrence Anthony. Thank you.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Allen (Sparky) Collier

    Simply heart warming. I have done some of the same with dogs. Talk to them and be with them and understanding comes forth.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Pepper

    This brought tears to my eyes. I must find that book!

  • http://www.facebook.com/saveallelephants Tory Braden

    This is not “inexplicable.” That elephants are telepathic is well known and documented. This happens all the time at Sheldrick’s orphanage when the more mature elephants are moved to Ithumba or Voi. The elephants out on the range come to meet the truck before it arrives and greet their new herd members.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Judith Cavey

    What a wonderful man Lawrence Anthony was – his experiences with his elephants so moving. Elephants are so intelligent, they care for each other and share the same feelings as humans. Must remember to look for ‘The Elephant Whisperer’ when next in my book shop.

  • http://facebook.com joanne mann

    Elephants are amazing they are very sensitive, intelligent and “in tune” with feelings . I believe many animals have some type of psychic ability to “read us”. They can tell when we mean well or we are dangerous to them, other creatures or even other human beings.
    I knew of Lawrence Anthony’s wonderful humanitarian efforts. It’s really strange around the first of March, I thought suddenly about him and hoped he was in good health . I then wondered how his rescued herds were doing.I don’t know why but with in a day or two I became very sad and felt like a very special soul had passed from our Earth. I was so very sad and I dreamed his resuued elephants herds were traveling a great distance and they were morning the loss of someone they loved and trusted,
    he News often sickens me with the apathy , moral decay ,throw away mentality instead of recying of our human race that I tend to put it off.
    I just did not connect that Lawrence must of passed until a few days later. It is so sad another great light has left our existence as we know it.
    May His soul, family and friends find love Joy and Peace. May Lawrence’s family and friends continue his great works with international conservation, environmental groups and saving animals!
    Sincerely,
    Joanne Mann, Atlanta GA.

  • http://Aswiththememoryofanelephant-gone,butneverforgotten... Leeanne

    I met Lawrence Anthony, a couple of years ago…he inspired me with his stories of his elephants…I no longer live in Africa, but my interest and love for elephants are because of him…what a loss to my country – South Africa, after hearing of his passing..He will always be remembered..

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment animal lover

    I have always loved animals but this makes me want to save all animals

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ken Hagen

    Just amazing!!. just shows how little we actually know about the animal kingdom.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment ellen

    Animals and humans certainly can communicate with each other. The kindness and caring of humans can be sensed by animals. This story is a wonderful example of this bond.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Arianne

    I am devastated to read that Lawrence has left us but may he rest in peace after the magnificent efforts he made to save so many animals in Baghdad and the elephants in SA.
    Sending love and light on his way,
    Arianne Koven

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Nathaniel Fultz

    I would love to see a weekend retreat of a horse whisperer, dog whisperer, and whoever else is likewise connected with animals. A documentary of this could then me shown around the world to appreciative audiances.

  • http://www.altirado.org alTirado

    I’ve heard many wonderful elephant stories about their intelligence and feelings but this one is an amazing story and also an amazing and spiritual man with a powerful mind.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Alice

    What an amazing story. I do hope that the elephants will be saved from poachers and hunters and too many people. We know so little about them and they are so much more intelligent then we think they are.
    Elephants being exploited in circuses is also a crime. I know as I have been following one circus in Portugal with African elephants.
    RIP Mr Laurence Anthony

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Buttercup12012

    I found Anthony’s book in the Johannesburg airport on my way back from a mission trip last year. I adored it. What an incredible man….what an incredible loss for us all. My heart and sympathies go out to the Anthony family ….and his beloved elephants

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Fran

    How I cried when I read this wonderful article. I KNOW that animals speak to us through their own mysterious way.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Meyyammai Annamalai

    Such a beautiful & touching story. Anthony is a truly caring & passionate person & deserves this honourable send off from these equally passionate elephants.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nupur

    truly touching. hope the world realises that animals feel and think just like us. Living in love and harmony with them is the way to heal the world.

  • http://TheSpiritoftheElephant Bob Preller

    Few people know and understand the intellegence of the Elephant. These creatures far superior than we wish to believe and we much to learn from them and about them. http://www.silentgiants.co.za

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Colleen Chandler

    People don’t give animals any credit for compassion and understanding. We’ve seen them mourn their own dead and cover the body with palm fronds to keep away vultures. Elephants are very sensitive and caring animals

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mandy Anthony

    Wonderful column. I would just like to point out that Lawrence, my Brother-in-law died on March 2, not March 7 as stated above.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Gillian Silcock

    i am going to buy the book. I read this email by mistake – was going to just delete it because I live in Johannesburg so by definition I AM TOO BUSY! I am so glad to have read it. It has enriched my day and my life. How sad to have lost a wonderful human being. Thank you Jesus we still have elephants! Am so glad we will all be together as friends – animals and humans in Heaven.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Garth Venter

    Wonderful experience having read this book!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ingeborg

    Thank God for the life of Lawrence Anthony – such a wonderful and great example to humanity! MHDBSRIP!

  • http://www.FYI4Health.com Sandie Sudberry

    Simply beautiful. I have read in the past how elephants mourn their loved ones when they lose them, but never would have imagined them “knowing” when they had lost a human being that had been so special in their lives. I had goosebumps while reading.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Pat

    To his friends the Elephants and his humane loved ones at Thula Thula may you all find solace in his great life of understanding. My sincere condolence to you all. I hope you will be able to continue the work.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Vicky

    Stunning book – wish I was there with him talking to these wonderful amazing understanding animals.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Eloise Nezar

    We have lost an awesome man & gifted author…& can only hope & pray that his work will be continued.. for those who have not read his books..BUY NOW & please donate to any cause that involves the protection of wild animals everywhere.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Heidi Duncan

    The world is a poorer place without Laurence Anthony. His books will be our solace and we should all help in the task of caring and protecting the animals he so deeply cared for. Lets do it as a Memoriam to a good man.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment gunhild Birnbaum

    I learned a lot from the book. I could not put it down. Thank you Anthony Lawrence for this fantastic book.

  • http://succestrategyportal.com Sue Rumack

    If you believe in soul and that every being has a soul then it makes sense that souls call to each other and communicate. Is it so far beyond our ego to believe that we all communicate when we open to the communication available to us. This wonderful man communicated in love, which is the language of soul.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Noreen Caswell

    We are all interconnected. Namaste

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Dagmar VanBeselaere

    I met Anthony Lawrence briefly in Feb. and we watched his elephants play like puppies in the water. What an amazing experience. A highlight of my trip to South Africa.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jacqui Roskilly

    What an amazing man!! What an outstanding story. I truely believe the human race should learn from these majestic animals. Sympathies to the family.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jannie le Roux

    …and that is why I still don’t understand people who kill animals for pleasure – we do not have a clue about what animals know or understand.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Peter Andersen

    Anthony Lawrence did not die. He was called up to heaven to be the Angel to take charge of the animals up there.

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jill

    A wonderful book, written by a caring and gentle man. It takes a lot to win with wild animals and persevered and saved his herd. Fly high – and know you will be remembered, not only by humans, but by your faithful animal friends too. RIP.

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jim Hopkins

    If only we as humans could display the same love and compassion in spite of our differences!! I read the book with a lump in my throat at the extraordinary relationship Lawrence Anthony forged with wild rogue elephants

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment JACQUELINE HALLER

    WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS ENOUGH ABOUT THESE MARVELOUS BEASTS AND THEIR CONNECTION TO US, ALSO MR. ANTHONY. HE UNDERSTOOD THEM TO THEIR SOULS AND THEY KNEW IT, SHOWING THEIR TOTAL RESPECT FOR THE MAN. LOVED THE STORY.

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Diane Anderson

    I felt incredibly sad when I got to the last few pages of the book. A wonderful man and he was taken too soon. May the elephants live and long and trouble free live on Thula Thula.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Judie Kopfman

    I was so touched by this beautiful story. I hope the family contines the work and efforts
    of Anthony. He lived for the Elephants of Thula Thula. God Bless Him forever.
    Judie Kopfman
    Cheraw, SC

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment A

    His book touched me deeply, no doubt that he is the son of Africa. I was chocked to hear that he passed away. His soul remains with his elephants…

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Phillipa Smith

    I was so in awe of Anthony after reading his book and the respect I have for him and his elphants is immense. What a wonderful tribute these amazing animals paid him.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Pat Downing

    Elephants are gentle giants and man’s best friend for life – an elephant never forgets, especially kindness.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Pauline

    An absolutely awesome story which reduced me to tears.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ginny du Toit

    This is an extra-ordinary story which brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes.

    Hopefully the elephants will accept his death and carry on being peaceful. They are such magnificent creatures and we as humans could learn a great deal from them.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Steve Lawson

    When one has a belief anchored in a Creator of all things, this story simply becomes another testament to the “oneness” of humanity and the animals. As stated, we are all connected. The trick to realizing this is to slow down and take time to smell the roses. Only then will you be able to see the beauty of this world and begin to understand the intelligence of the animals within it.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Dulce Capadocia

    What an incredible story of friendship, trust and courage! Was moved reading it! Thank you!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Humbi

    Great book to read. Truly a great conservationist. Africa need many more like him if we are to save our heritage.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Bizzie Frost

    What a wonderful story. The bond between humans and animals can never be underestimated.

  • http://suelynn.hubpages.com/ Susan Grace

    Oh this story made me cry! I have known for so long that animals have intelligence, they have emotions and they have memories. If only humans would wake up and open their eyes to the miseries they impose on the animal kingdom, either knowingly or unwittingly. This story is part of my own heart. Deep condolences to all of Lawrence Anthony’s family – and that includes his beloved elephants.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jennifer Parente

    I so wish that there were more amazingly kind people who cared for animals. The elephants recognised his beautiful heart. So many animals have been slaughtered in such a cruel manner, just out of shear, evil greed for the animals’ tusks and horns. This has to be stoppped. God created all the beautiful animals and the cruelty waged on animals is too awful for words.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ann Brophy

    This proves that all living things on Earth really are inter-connected. I’m deeply moved by the fact that these wild creatures sensed the death of a dear human friend and came to pay homage to his memory, and bring comfort to the family.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mrs.Auriel Durston

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful true story.
    IIlove animals and know by instinct they know who cares for them.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jaap du Preez

    Thank God for people like Mr Anthony! I truly believe that people who are cruel to animals will have to “justify” their behaviour to Him who created All

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Joyce LaPon

    An amazing man and group of elephants proving that we are all connected in the universe!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Shailja

    Absolutely loved it. Awesome book. Even my 8year has thoroughly enjoyed it. Hats off to Lawrence and his contribution xx

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Your Name

    What a fantastic story. We have not read the book yet, but it now top of our list. There are just no words to describe the treatment given to animals by man. Let us hope the wonderful work of Anthony is continued by his family, in his memory. Elephants are very special animals, but all animals have a place in this world and should be given the respect they deserve.
    Betsy and David Borthwick

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment olga pillai

    animals are better than humans. they only kill to eat,not like humans who kill for nothing, one war after another, without any good results.

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Anna

    Wow, thanks for the story. It touched my heart and made my soul cry. I have always believed that animals have feelings and of course, souls. This is a perfect example.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Sue Freewoman

    This is a beautiful and touching story.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Grace Calabrese

    So touching, an amazing story. People like Lawrence are true heros.

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  • Sophie

    Truly beautiful.

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  • MeowBahrain

    There is more to our existence on this planet than we know or understand. This story brings that home.

  • Sanity First

    The Elephant Whisperer is an amazing book, a great read.

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  • DreamJobbing

    This is incredibly beautiful! I think you and your readers would be really interested in our ‘Dream Job’ in Thailand.
    In a nutshell, it’s basically a chance to work with elephants and travel to this amazing country, airfare & accommodation covered!

    You can read the details and find out how to submit your applications here:

    http://dreamjobbing.com/dreamjobs/Thailand

    Best,

    DreamJobbing

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