Dr Dolittle has nothing on Anna Breytenbach


Dr Dolittle has nothing on Anna Breytenbach

DEBORAH STEINMAIR is entranced by an extraordinary South African woman who communicates with animals.


JAN Breytenbach died; one of three remarkable brothers. My imagination was captured by Anna, the daughter of one of the other brothers, Cloete.

Anna Breytenbach is an animal whisperer. She does not claim psychic abilities or fluency in animal language. She relies on intuition, empathy and observation of body language: to grow quiet and transpose yourself into the animal's mind. If you want to ask animals questions or communicate something to them, you don't necessarily use words, she says. You think in pictures, which they pick up telepathically.

Of course, animals love words too, or perhaps it is the tone of your voice when you praise them. Everything on earth, it seems to me, yearns for respect, acceptance, admiration and love. Plants, too.

Anna caught my attention with a documentary about her breakthrough with a big black leopard named Diablo. The video is slick and professionally done, yes, it's a bit like an infomercial and at the end her DVDs and courses are advertised. But a woman needs to eat. Besides, she is an animal activist who does a lot for conservation. The content is astounding.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Anna is called to a game reserve to communicate with a large black leopard rescued from a zoo, where he was abused. He's insanely wild and furious — no one can approach him. He also never wants to leave his sleeping enclosure to roam the reserve. He just lies there, growling viciously. Then Anna appears in his field of view. She is beautiful, with the Breytenbachs' olive skin and long dark hair. She makes eye contact. She goes to kneel beside his cage. The animal calms down and watches her. They lock eyes in silence.

She turns to the owner/gamekeeper, Jurg; a man in khaki shorts, light hair with middle parting and compassionate eyes. Her voice is soft and calm. She tells him that Diablo has a problem with his name. It's too dark and devilish, too evil. He wants a different name. He distrusts people because he was abused. She assured the animal that nothing was expected of him here, he didn't have to perform, he could just be himself, at peace. He was boundlessly relieved. She also says the animal is enormously powerful, not only physically but also spiritually: a huge personality, a being that commands and deserves respect. Finally, she says he wants to know what happened to the two leopard cubs that were in the zoo cage next to his.

Jurg, an Afrikaans man with a great love of big cats, is visibly moved. Yes, indeed, when they went to fetch him there were two leopard cubs in the cage next to his (there was no way Anna could have known this). They are in a reserve now, free and happy, Jurg assures Spirit, as he is now called. Anna encouraged him to talk to the animal. “You are beautiful, you are beautiful, so beautiful," he says, and Spirit acknowledges the compliment time after time with a short growl. He then leaves his sleeping enclosure and walks around the camp, free and happy.

I watch another video, filmed 10 years later. Anna's long, dark hair now has streaks of grey and she is still lovely and calm. Spirit, meanwhile, is 20 years old, an exceptional age for a leopard. He is still beautiful and happy. Two leopard sisters were settled in the camp next to his and through the wire they seemed to want to make friends. Anna communicated with Spirit and indeed, they were the two cubs that were in the zoo cage next to his. They know each other. The game reserve then put the leopard sisters in the camp with Spirit and the three live peacefully together — that's exceptional too; adult leopards don't make friends.

I watch another video where Anna explains how to communicate with nature. It's professionally done, with lovely photography and earthy, beautiful models.

I've talked to animals from an early age. I often forget to greet people, but will always greet animals. On a few occasions, when I was heartbroken, animals came to sit on me and comfort me. A strange cat once jumped on my lap and put a hibiscus there, when I sat crying. When I look at Spirit, I see my own cat, Skat Spannemair, to the tee, only in larger format. Skat comes to lie on my chest when I'm downcast, forcing me to quieten down and experience his heartbeat and breathing. Calm, peace and joy descend upon me. He's a people whisperer.

I had a complicated relationship with a problematic horse when I was a child. But this is not about me.

People underestimate animals because they eat them and no one wants to get attached to their food. That's the big problem, if you ask me.

Anna believes consciousness and intelligence are not relative — every creature is valuable. She reckons our spirit is bruised, our peace stolen, and we are overwhelmed by technology and all kinds of distractions. We never become silent, we are blind and deaf to our intuition and instincts. We forget that we are part of everything that exists, that we are related to butterflies and elephants.

There were documentaries like My Octopus Teacher, people finally know that whales have a language, that elephants give each other names and respond to their names, that bees can smell lung cancer. But there's so much we don't know because all we want to do is control, dominate. And consume.

I would have loved to attend one of Anna's courses, but they're rather expensive. I simply shoot the breeze with the animals in my own backyard.

Anna's uncle Breyten wrote:

ons lewe in donker tye
die voëls van die hemel is vergiftig
ons dwaal deur hel verligte sale
en staar kortsigtig na uitstallings
foto’s van dooie fabrieke
grys beeldedoeke, ensiklopedieë van vergaan
noukeurig aangetekende afwesigheid van betekenis

I so badly want to lie down on the grass and chat with a butterfly. I want to fall silent and be filled with peace like Anna, shining like a saint, with a serene smile full of mystery and wonder.

Give the woman a Nobel Prize!

Take a look at Anna and the black leopard for yourself:

♦ VWB ♦

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