Soul of the Elephant

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Elephants (Loxondonta Africana) charging in Botswana. Beverly Joubert/© Wildlife Films

Nature takes an intimate look into the lives of one of the world’s most intelligent and sensitive animals through the uniquely personal lens of extraordinary cinematic storytellers.

Despite living in the wild in Botswana for 30 years, filming, researching and exploring the world they have come to know so well, award-winning filmmakers and conservationists Dereck and Beverly Joubert say they are often still surprised by what they come across on their journeys. Such was the case when the couple were exploring the backwaters of the bush one day and stumbled upon the skulls of two large bull elephants with their ivory tusks intact. To the Jouberts, this is always cause for celebration because it means the giants died of natural causes and not, for example, from poaching, snares or bullets.

An elephant’s age can be determined by its molar teeth, and the Jouberts conclude from them that both animals died at around 70, but still had a few years left to live. So what caused these bulls to die in the same place and at the same time? The mystery so intrigues the filmmakers, they decide to spend the next two years traveling through what would have been their home range, reconstructing the lives these elephants would have led, reimagining their birth and childhood, how they would have interacted with each other, their great migrations for water with their families and the inevitable encounters with lions.

To understand the lives of the two old bulls, the Jouberts paddle from one end of a river to the other in the Selinda Reserve, home to over 7,000 elephants in a remote corner of Botswana. Their journey brings them into extremely close contact with herds that, over time, seem to accept their presence as the couple film and photograph them. They capture scenes of a mother teaching her new calf that he can’t have his milk until he stops his temper tantrum, and also manage to document elephants snoring. But there are moments when an elephant suddenly charges toward their canoe. When that happens, the experienced pair know it’s best not to move, but to rather remain quiet and wait. The filmmakers only discover what caused the herd’s agitation after they paddle downstream, and come upon piles of discarded bones and skulls that had been chopped away to remove the ivory.

Nature is a production of THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET. For Nature, Fred Kaufman is executive producer. Soul of the Elephant is a production of Wildlife Films and THIRTEEN Productions LLC in co-production with Terra Mater Factual Studios.

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