Oct

12

 This likable documentary tracks the unexplained deaths of two bull elephants who died with their ivory unplundered in Botswana. The Jouberts traverse the Zambesi in skiffs, using their cameras judiciously or withdrawing on occasion, when an elephant trumpeted and looked to be charging. They following pods of elephants –with unseen helicopter photogs doing some of the flyover filming, as well as other unseen ancillary cinematographers– watching as the megafaunae mourn the skeletal remains they pass, huge heads or jaws bleached white in the 100 F heat of the savannah. The elephants are of course seen to be soulful, and nurturing, and possessed of a sense of fun in the mud from time to time. I objected to the limited focus and range of the narrative, which omitted much of the psychology we know about these magnificent prehistoric megafauna.

They inform us that when they began their forays in filming elephants, there were some 5 million in the world. Now, hundreds are murdered for their ivory in many of the countries of southern Africa, every year. As are the fast-disappearing rhinoceros. The film is a plea for conservation of these magisterial animals, and a reminder not to promote the sale and use of ivory, or rhino horn—which do not, science has assured us, "cure cancer" or other ailments (including erectile dysfunction and infertility), which has been the popular myth for centuries).
Botswana is where one-third of all the Earth's elephants roam without hindrance or threat, protected by a thoughtful president, who is conservation-minded. Poaching is not the problem it is in Tanzania and Zimbabwe—but the shoot-to-kill rule against poachers is slowly—too slowly– putting a punctuation point to these lawless, enterprising ivory robber-barrens.

The Joubert film reminds us that every dead elephant with ivory intact is a cause for celebration: It means that the massive companion beast died not from poison, snares, nets, traps or rifle shot, but from old age.

One amusing note. At the screening, the charming ambassador from Botswana happened to be in attendance. He rose at the Q & A session to thank the filmmakers for their loving pictorial of his beloved Botswana, as well as to invite the packed audience (most, if not all, PBS supporters) to visit his country. "And do not fail to notice, " he added with enthusiasm, if a bizarre memory blockage to note the message of the doc, "the huge elephant in the airport—it is made entirely of elephant tusks!"

We all shook our heads in disbelief.


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