Geoff Dalglish sits down with an animal whisperer to find outPENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS: Anna Breytenbach, who believes that if we listen we will hear What the animal experts say: Decades ago Rex Harrison delighted screen audiences with his charming portrayal of Doctor Dolittle, a somewhat eccentric veterinarian in Victorian England who spoke a variety of animal languages.
In a bid to learn more I signed up for an animal communications workshop at the Knysna Elephant Park with facilitator Anna Breytenbach.
Working with people we had just met, we focused on photographs of their pets so that they could authenticate messages or feelings we received.
The results were surprising.
"Animal communication is not a gift," Breytenbach
"It is a natural ability that everybody has.
It is simply a matter of getting in touch with our intuition and accessing something that isn't part of our everyday five-sensory reality.
"Indigenous tribes like the San Bushmen were able to communicate telepathically with all of nature and didn't consider this unusual.
Inter-species communication courses are relatively new in South Africa, although the benefits are increasingly being appreciated by people involved with animals.
"I'm not teaching people anything new," Breytenbach
"I'm helping them remember what's already within them.
When we experience a direct empathetic connection with another being we're much more inclined to understand the perspective of that animal and the challenges it faces.
was called in to communicate with a black leopard named Diablo after he
mauled the owner of Jukani Predator
Park, a sanctuary near Mossel Bay, and was refusing to come out of his
established that the former zoo inmate was deeply distressed by his
past and also had negative associations around his
name - diabolical and devilish.
The park's Jurg Olsen told the animal that he
was beautiful and would in future be known as Spirit - the spirit of the sanctuary.
"Without doubt there was an inter-species communication," says Olsen.
"Anna asked us things he wanted to know, that we could only confirm with his previous owner.
then told us that he
had agreed to meet us outside his
night shelter the next day.
Bearing in mind that he hadn't done this in nearly six months, l was sceptical.
"To our astonishment when doing the morning rounds, Spirit was waiting for us outside.
When I greeted him he
answered in a deep croaky voice, as if he
hadn't spoken for some time.
"I now respect him for what he
is and how he
wants to be treated.
has changed my interaction with the rest of our feline and human family very positively.
Through Spirit I have been taught more about respect for the needs and feelings of humans and animals than in my life up until then.
says that communicators can be especially helpful in enhancing relationships between medical professionals and their animal patients.
"Vets can find out directly what the animal's experience of their pain or discomfort is; where in the body it occurs; what might have caused it; and even what might make it better.
So how does it work?
"Animals communicate through physical action (body language), complex languages (vocalisation) and telepathically.
People receive the messages to the degree that they are listening and can tune in, like twirling the dials of a radio, to be on the same wavelength.
"Telepathic communication involves the direct transmission of feelings, intentions, thoughts, mental images, emotions, impressions and pure knowing.
While working in the US, Breytenbach
discovered that inter-species communication was well established there.
studied through the Assisi International Animal Institute
, which operates from the premise that all animals - human and non-human - are sentient beings and can express their intelligence and communicate.
works with domestic and wild animals, runs workshops and takes on pro bono work including baboon rehabilitation, whale and dolphin research, white lion reintroduction and elephant management.