TIFF Day 4 – An elephant in the room

There are over 400 movies at TIFF, including documentaries and short films.  My penchant for things African led me to see The Ivory Game, a recently-completed Netflix-produced film about the rapid decimation of the African elephant population  that, sadly, is threatening extinction of this largest of land animals.   The figures are startling.   The number of elephants in East Africa declined by 30%  or about 150,000 elephants, from 2007 to 2014 and continues at a rate of about 8% per year.  Part of this stems from human-wildlife conflict as human development  encroaches on previously protected areas. Elephants know no boundaries and may destroy gardens and local agriculture so people living in villages near these animals turn to killing the animals to protect their crops.

But the bigger problem is poaching of the animals for their tusks.  It seems that the main trade in elephant tusks is through China where ivory trinkets or carvings are seen as valued pieces of art.  And poachers, gang leaders and corrupt officials can make a lot of money selling illegal ivory.  They are even banking on the approaching extinction of the elephant, a boon to their profit as ivory becomes increasingly scarce.

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In addition to educating about this crisis, the film turns into a real-life spy thriller as it follows undercover agents as they try to gather information to help capture and convict the poachers, including one of the  kingpins aptly nicknamed Shetani – “the devil”.

It appears that the only way for elephants to survive is for governments around the world to make sale of ivory totally illegal.  Until that happens the poaching will continue and the number of African elephants living in the wild become dangerously threatened.

You can read more about this at  www.theivorygame.com and the Great Elephant Census.

I give this documentary 4 stars of 5.  It was the only movie that I saw this year at TIFF that actually moved me to tears.  It will be on Netflix later this season.

I have peppered this page with a few of photos of elephants that I have been fortunate to see over the years in East Africa.  How many of these magnificent animals have survived the poacher, I wonder?

I took the above photo on my way to the airstrip in the Maasai Mara.  I was worried that having to stop as this herd of elephants meandered across the road would make me miss my plane back to Nairobi.  But even the small local airlines are on “Africa time” and the plane was an hour off schedule. Meanwhile I got to sit in a jeep and watch this extended elephant family enjoying their day.

And when I got to the air strip, the small plane was oversold by one – so I got to sit in the cockpit with the pilot.  A commanding view of the Maasai Mara and this memorable sight of another large herd of elephants crossing the Savannah.

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Adjusting …

It is good to be back in Kenya. I woke up on Monday morning, after about three hours sleep, to the sound of birds outside and a bright light streaming through my window. In my jet-lagged haze I wondered why there would be a spotlight outside my room that came on near dawn. Turns out it is the sun.

Fresh pineapple and mango juice at breakfast. The pineapple here is like a different fruit than what we get at home. It is juicy and sweet and tender. Probably picked yesterday. I enjoy fresh pineapple here almost every day. It is delectable.

One of my bags took a side trip to Amsterdam. The other one, full of calendars and books and kids clothes to give away arrived safely. Luckily I threw a toothbrush and a cap and a change of shirt in my carry on along with a week supply of malaria prevention medication so I really did not suffer. This has happened to me a couple of times in my travel past. It always points out how much less I really need than what I bring along with me. I had all my electronics and camera supplies so I was able to function but it has been difficult to locate my bag and slow to get it transferred back to me.

I was thinking of sending out one of those “I have lost my bag and can you send me money by Western Union” emails like I get from I people I barely know but luckily Kenyan Airways came through in crunch and saved my friends the trauma.

Our first day here was filled with activity. A visit to the Daphne Sheldrick shelter for orphaned elephants was a delight – twenty-five elephants all under three years old that have been rescued and are being cared for with eventual re-introduction into the wild. I had been there once before and seen an IMAX film (Born to be Wild) last year that highlighted the work done by this refuge. The elephants are shown once a day and if they decide to come close to the rope dividing barrier you can touch them. Quite extraordinary. More about the Sheldrick Trust can be found here:

http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/

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At lunch time we sat at the edge of the Rift Valley at a very breezy Baridi corner, one of my favourite places to visit reflect on the magnificence of nature. I will spend a bit more time there on the weekend when I visit my friends, the Moikos.

The weather is a bit cooler than usual, probably around 20 degrees C. Just like in North America, climate change has made the weather more unpredictable and erratic, with extremes of wet and dry, hot and cool. The difference is that here they have fewer resources to deal with this change and reliance on the traditional weather patterns for agriculture, for example, have made planning difficult.

I will get over my jet lag in about 3 days and feel more settled now that my luggage has been found. The adjustments to being in Kenya include the transition from winter to summer, overcoming the 8 hour time change and getting into “Africa time” where nothing happens quickly or according to schedule.

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