By Punch Pep Correspondent Elizabeth Fischer
Sounds like 007 meets Indie – quite the opposite – this documentary features real life â€“ the Mozambique Gorongosa National Park â€“ a majestic and beautiful retreat â€“ a place of refuge and tranquility.Â A secret oasis that is full of life.Â A place I wouldnâ€™t mind calling home â€“ well, that is if I was four legged & on the wild side (hush friends).
Yet, with that said, in the right state of mind and with the appropriate precautions, I could see retiring in such a glorious place; regardless of the potential threat of danger that exists when living with wildlife.Â It has and always will be about respect and understanding.Â Respect for the imposing, as well as the easily forgotten â€“ the smallest of small and the largest of large â€“ the tallest of the tall and the shortest of the short â€“ the inhabitants; and it is about understanding the surrounding environment.
While Gorongosa National ParkÂ is now a wildlife preserve with its foremost personality, the elephant, it wasnâ€™t always so.Â Before the 70â€™s it was unspoiled, lacking the touch of human ruin and home to a number of wildlife species including 2,000+ elephants (possibly as many as 4,000).Â But as tensions mounted and war ultimately descended upon the land in the mid-70s through all of the 80s, the dwellers were caught in the middle and became the ultimate prize.Â For the elephant, it was Ivory that led to their poaching because it bought arms/ammunition, while other wildlife became food, a means of cheap nourishment.
It is this remembered devastation, the landmines and the Civil War that piloted the foundation and origin of this documentary.Â After some 20 years, only 100 elephants remained.Â A sad and distressing statistic.Â For those elephants that survived, humans were the enemy.Â While curiosity will enable forgiveness; intelligence keeps them hostile.Â And this hostility, if not changed, compromises the whole of the 20 year rehabilitation plan; a rehabilitation plan important to S. Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Knowledge and a backing by strong leadership with a goal to protect and conserve led Mateus Mutemba to seek help from world-renowned elephant scientist Dr. Joyce Poole and her filmmaker Bob Poole.Â This brother & sister teamÂ provides hope for a successful future.Â JoyceÂ is the elephant whisperer; while Bob’s documentation will lead to education for the masses.
Through Joyceâ€™s expertise, she earns the elephantsâ€™ trust and, in turn, is able to re-teach them to understand those visiting the park are not a threat; and toÂ help them co-exist peacefully in the park without desensitizing them to appropriate dangers.Â Her expertise will lend a hand in teaching the locals the way to identify different elephant behaviors (relaxed v. upset) so they will know when to interact and when to respect.
Joyceâ€™s call came after several tourist excursions left people scared & elephants frightened.Â Â If the tourists approached the elephants, they would run away or charge.Â Not all charging is badÂ but some has the potential to lead to catastrophe â€“ something not good for the park, its reputation or the tourists.Â Though no one has been injured, an absolute: bad publicity travels much faster than good.Â If survival is to happen, tourism is indispensable.Â It will provide the necessary funding for re-birth, rebuilding and sustainability; not to mention allow for education, conservation, health, better farming practices, and job creation; all in an effort to protect the environment coupled with reducing overall poverty.
Through this process, information will be shared.Â A win win for all.
The documentary won the Sun Valley Film Festival award.Â It aired on National Geographic TV.Â It was discussed on ABC Nightline.Â Future dates to be announced.
1. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Elephants are pioneers.Â They have extraordinary memories.Â (An elephant remembered Joyce Poole even though there had been 12 years between encounters).Â Memories are at least as vivid and powerful as our own â€“ these memories inform & inspire.Â They are complex intelligent beings.Â Besides intelligence, they are quirky,Â caring and thoughtful.Â They are deeply impacted by the environment, their families and the past.Â Elephants are resilient â€“ many orphans are leading families.
2.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Males leave the family herd as teenagers and never return.
3. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Elephant language is unique â€“ it is a combination of sounds and body language.Â A body position with a sound has a specific meaning â€“ it translates into words and/or warnings.Â Some elephant sounds can be felt in our chest, while others are at such a low frequency we canâ€™t detect.Â The combination of sounds varies depending on the elephant herd.
4.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Elephants suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).Â They have the ability to forgive and re-learn those that are peaceful and those that are dangerous.
5.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Herds are led by the Matriarch.Â All look to the Matriarch for behavior clues.Â The young learn from the adults.Â They learn by listening & watching.
6.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The age of Matriarchs/pack leaders, currently residing in the park,Â impacts the health of the younger elephants.Â It is a trickledown that impacts not only those born within the herd but those recently introduced to the parkâ€™s landscape.Â This trickledown instills fear, a fear of humans that lingers years after the Civil War
7.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Subtle signs of communication â€“ if an elephant stands tall, stretches neck and spread ears â€“ looking down at you overÂ his/her tusks â€“ all is okay; but if the elephant folds the bottom of his/her ear under â€“ the elephant is serious and it is important to not intrude.
8.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â They can tell the difference between men and women even down to ethnicity through sounds & smells.
9. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Female elephants begin imitating their motherâ€™s at 4.Â Female elephants, when necesary,Â will adopt anotherâ€™s youth and raise it.
10. Â Â Â Â Â World Elephant Day is August 12th each year.Â http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/2012/08/12/world-elephant-day-2012-photos_n_1770187.html?ncid=txtlnkushpmg00000040
Joyce Poole â€“
1. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â She grew up in Kenya.Â Every school holiday she went on Safari. Â She loved growing up with the wild animals.Â She was inspired by Jane Goodall.Â She understands the Elephants language.Â She can see the world through their eyes & ears.
2.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â She is an expert with a unique understandingÂ about how elephants think while having the ability to help them heal from the scars of war.Â She has studied elephant language most of her life.
3.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â She learned the language by observation.Â Before she understood elephant behavior, she got into sticky situations.
4.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â To really understand a herd of elephants, Joyce opted to play with fire to observe the maternal instinct.Â She played a recording of a baby elephant being attacked by a lion.Â The females immediately began running to protect the baby and ignored Joyceâ€™s truck.Â Eventually, the Matriarch realized the audio was questionable and turned to face the truck with a statement, indicated by her body language, that she was aware of the situation.
Imagine coming face-to-face with a 10,000-pound elephant charging straight for you. Would you run? Would you hide inside your truck? Or would you turn off the engine and stay calm? Joyce stayed calm.Â Turns out, like many of us, One Tusk (a notoriously aggressive female elephant is named such for her missing front tooth) was just a misunderstood soul. â€œHer charge came across to JoyceÂ as real bravado, coming out of nowhere like thatâ€“it was a lot of bluff.â€Â To a non-expert, this experience would have indeed been terrifying. Â But with over 30 years of experience, Joyce is able to discern the slightest subtleties of elephant behavior. Â Joyce explains that the re-habituation project is a â€œlearning process on both sides. Â Elephants need to learn that we are no longer a threat, and we have to learn how to read their signals and respect their boundaries.â€Â â€œWeâ€™re talking about animals that are intelligent, highly social, probably capable of revenge â€¦ this kind of [war] experience has left a deep scarâ€¦ Â So weâ€™re not here to make them forget. Â Weâ€™re here to teach them that they are safe.Â Gorongosa may be one of the best places in Africa now to be an elephant.â€ â€“ Dr. Joyce Poole.
Mozambiqueâ€™s Gorongosa National Park â€“
1.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Unspoiled Nature – pre-civil war.
2.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Landscape littered with as many as 1 million landmines â€“ many of which have been removed (from areas used for tourism) – post civil war.
3. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Elephants are being introduced from other areas in Africa to help grow the population.
4.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Despite poverty, there is an understanding of the importance to protect vital lands & turn them into sanctuaries for wildlifeÂ (elephants, lions, zebras, buffalo).
5. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The park has a program in place toÂ help relocate people (protect the farmers).Â The park strives to make advancement with innovative ideas & ways for peaceful co-existence.Â Instrumental in this process is understanding, respect and communication.
5. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Nature is respondingÂ rapidly and positively now that it was given a bit of help and space from mankind.
6.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Seasonal flooding and waterlogging of the valley, which is composed of a mosaic of different soil types, creates a variety of distinct ecosystems. Grasslands are dotted with patches of acacia trees, savannah, dry forest on sands and seasonally rain-filled pans and termite hill thickets.Â The plateaus contain miombo and montane forests and a spectacular rain forest at the base of a series of limestone gorges.Â Â This combination of unique features at one time supported some of the densest wildlife populations in all of Africa, including charismatic carnivores, herbivores and over 500 bird species.Â But large mammal numbers were reduced by as much as 95% and ecosystems stressed during Mozambique’s many years of civil conflict at the end of the 20th Century.Â Yet, change is in the air.
1.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â It has reared its ugly head â€“ akin to 1989 when the elephant was headed towards extinction.
2. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Ban in place sinceÂ 1989.Â However, a small window opened up and rekindled Ivory carvers, sending a message to the Far East that it is okay to buy Ivory.
3.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Ignorance makes those unaware that obtaining Ivory means killing not just pullingÂ a tooth.
4.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â It is possible to amputate the tusk at a certain spot.Â The elephant will live.Â Amputation requires skills & education not found with the poachers.
5.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The tusk is full ofÂ nerves and is so long it wraps inside the mouth.
6.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The possibility exists to legalize the ivory trade.
7.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Whether legal or illegal â€“ the ivory trade will have a devastating impact on the elephant and could lead to their extinction as early as 2020 â€“ our lifetime.
8.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Social media is the proper vehicle to enlighten about the plight of the elephant.Â Â Additionally, there is a petition on the In Defense of Animals website that can be signed to stop the plan to lift the ban & legalize Elephant Ivory Sales – http://ida.convio.net/site/MessageViewer?em_id=24281.0&printer_friendly=1Â
Websites for more information â€“
1.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â http://gorongosa.net/
2. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â www.elephantvoices.org
If this article speaks to you, it is important to get involved.Â Over the last several months, there has been a spike in elephant poaching.Â Gorongosa is at risk.Â While it is currently not a target of the poachers â€“the price for Ivory is much more attractive than the long term consequences.
For additional background information – see article from September 04, 2012: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2012/09/04/world/africa/africas-elephants-are-being-slaughtered-in-poaching-frenzy.xml. (Democratic Republic of Congo – In 30 years of fighting poachers, Paul Onyango had never seen anything like this.Â Twenty-two dead elephants, including several very young ones, clumped together on the open savanna, many killed by a single bullet to the top of the head. â€¦ Africa is in the midst of an epic elephant slaughter. Â Conservation groups say poachers are wiping out tens of thousands of elephants a year, more than at any time in the previous two decades, with the underground ivory trade becoming increasingly militarized.Â Like blood diamonds from Sierra Leone or plundered minerals from Congo, ivory, it seems, is the latest conflict resource in Africa, dragged out of remote battle zones, easily converted into cash and now fueling conflicts across the continent.)
Attorney Elizabeth Fischer is Punch Pep Correspondent. She is working as an Entrepreneur, Lawyer and Student (environmental studies), covering events for Pamela’s Punch as a generalist correspondent. When she is not working, studying or playing soccer or tennis, she is walking her pups, traveling the globe, running marathons, and enjoying all DC has to offer. Contact her at email@example.com.