Review: Secret Life of Elephants on Animal Planet, May 16

Animal Planet presents a timely documentary considering the exposure elephants are receiving in the news, beaten and abused by Circus handlers and left in too small confines alone to wither and go mad inside archaic zoos. <P></P> <P>Elephants are more like us at times than our cousin mammals, Chimpanzees and great Apes.</P> <P>On May 16 at 8 p.m. Animal Plant will be taking viewers on a journey into the world of more than 900 elephants who call Kenya’s National Samburu Reserve home. From the producers of Life and Planet Earth, Secret Life of Elephants follows a research team from Save the Elephants as they are embedded with the various herds they study and protect.</P> <P>***image3:center***</P> <P>It is an elephant’s obvious emotional life that creates a horrific scenario for captured animals, these social creatures who have strong matriarchal clans and openly mourn and grieve their own dead.  </P> <P>Elephants left on display in captivity often pace and become so traumatized that they attack their handlers in a desperate bid to escape.  </P> <P>In the white papers Post-Traumatic Stress and Elephants in Captivity" written by  G.A. Bradshaw Ph.D., Ph.D. & Lorin Lindner Ph.D., M.P.H., – they draw comparison to humans and elephants in this regard:</P> <BLOCKQUOTE dir=ltr style="MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px"> <P> "Given the social and neurobiological similarities between species, it is no surprise that both humans and elephants experience PTSD. Indeed, much of our<BR>understanding of trauma has been based on studies of animals as well as humans. Animals are routinely used in experiments as models to study stress<BR>and trauma effects in humans. </P> <P>Many experiments on animals have been designed specifically to study the effects of torture, maternal deprivation, and<BR>incarceration that humans endure during war and other violence. These conditions are very similar to those that elephants experience under conditions<BR>of closed confinement captivity. </P> <P>We now understand that the qualities that have made animals consistent models for understanding humans are the same<BR>qualities that make animals equally vulnerable to similar pain and suffering. Unlike natural disturbances elephants may experience in the wild,<BR>captivity disallows any hope of escape. </P> <P>Importantly, elephants in most captive situations lack the cohesive communities in which they live and interact naturally which help them cope with, and recover from, trauma. Most elephants in captivity have sustained not one, but successive traumatic stressors.  Wild caught young elephants taken for captive use are forcefully separated from their mothers and families. Often they witness the family’s<BR>deaths in the process of capture. </P> <P>The young elephants are prematurely weaned and transported to conditions that differ dramatically from those in which they<BR>are ecologically and evolutionarily adapted. Elephants in zoos and circuses are often moved to different locales and therefore are unable to maintain the bonds<BR>and relationship fidelity with other elephants that is central to elephant life and trauma recovery.</P> <P>Once in captive situations elephants also endure severe physical and psychological hardship. Many zoos and entertainment programs use physical<BR>force, pain, and deprivation to control elephants: methods that have been condemned by Amnesty International and other organizations as torture."</P></BLOCKQUOTE> <P>Our collective imprint of elephants has been shaped by everything we see, from the animated film "Dumbo" to naturist programming, visits to zoos, circuses and parades. </P> <P>Yet the animated children’s classic by Disney captured the emotional distress the two men discuss in their research perfectly.  Elephants are gregarious and loving, and deeply fond of each other within their families.</P> <P>Their majestic profile defines the African landscape, living and traveling within large herds. To the unknowing eye, this ancient beast will live forever on Earth. Many still do not know that the African elephant is highly threatened. </P> <P>This behemoth’s existence is being threatened at an alarming rate, especially at the hands of poachers to satisfy a desire for ivory.</P> <P>This documentary is shot in glorious high definition, provides an intimate window into what it’s really like to be an elephant by focusing on several dozen of these creatures. &lt;/P> <P>You will meet the Save the Elephants foundation’s world-renowned elephant conservationist Iain Douglas-Hamilton.  Save the Elephants combines the dedication and unmatched knowledge of Iain, his daughter, Saba Douglas-Hamilton and Dr. David Daballen, a leading elephant expert at the reserve. <BR>Save the Elephants believes the only way to save these African royals from impending threat is to get as close as possible to them – in essence, to see the world as they do and when necessary, intervene to protect the future of this dwindling species.</P> <P>Their team affixes high-tech radio collars around a couple dozen elephants (at one given time), which sends text messages communicating their whereabouts. These locating devices help piece together their stories and shed light on their daily challenges and the risky decisions they make to stay alive. Whether it’s facing nature’s relentless blows (drought, flooding, poor vegetation); the struggles within the herd (adjusting to new family members, illness, injury, death); predation of the young; poaching; or angry farmers (crop-raiding), the elephants are in constant battle to survive and thrive.  </P> <P>Harmattan, the matriarch of the 18-strong Winds family. Harmattan is introduced after giving birth to the19th member of the herd, baby Breeze. There’s not a moment for pause; Harmattan must keep focused. The welfare of the entire family depends on her decisions, and she knows they must cross the river for the water and vegetation that lay on the other side. There’s no time to coach baby Breeze through her first steps. It’s sink or swim – quite literally – as the newborn hobbles her first steps. She’s so small and pitiable that no one really notices when she wanders off while the others are drinking. This is just the kind of slip up that predators anticipate; luckily, Breeze’s mother realizes this mistake before it’s too late.</P> <P>Then there’s Buster, Breeze’s older brother. He feels compromised by Breeze’s arrival, and he’ll do anything to keep his mother’s attention, even setting up physical roadblocks to stand between Harmattan from nursing Breeze. The jealousy he feels is palpable but similar to human familial relationships; the bond between older brother and younger sister eventually develops, and soon little Breeze depends on her big brother for protection.</P> <P>Elsewhere, members of the Artists Herd, Chagall and her young calf Miro separate from the rest of the family as the mother slows her speed to accommodate her limping child. Miro suffers greatly from her injury as it impedes her physical and mental development. This is a situation that calls upon Save the Elephants’ involvement – the team of doctors and researchers must quickly separate mother from child, assuring the mother she’s in no danger while sedating the daughter to fix her fractured limb. What occurs afterward is both touching and heart wrenching as mom and child struggle to reunite.</P> <P>Some elephants face a different kind of danger – poaching – and when Mungu – the elephant with the largest-known tusks – turns up dead, the researchers believe that poaching was the cause. As the human population increases along with farming, the elephants’ migration paths are wandering into threatening territory, and it’s up to Save the Elephants to come up with brilliant ways to keep the peace.</P> <P>Poignant footage reveals a death of a mother elephant, leaving her male calves confused and orphaned. Rarely captured on film, these young bulls see their lifeless mother and gently nudge her with the most sensitive part of their foot. Nearby elephants hear their cries of anguish, and one by one in large numbers, they visit the fallen matriarch. </P> <P>Similar to how people approach funerals, the elephants “pay their respects” touch the matriarch and impart a message of farewell.<BR>Even more distressing is the post script at the end of the documentary that reveals how several of the large animals we have come to observe in the filmed event have been killed by poachers.  </P> <P>The special is narrated by Novella Nelson and music is composed by Richard Fiocca, whose most recent credits include Discovery Channel’s Life". <BR></P>Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.