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.


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.


Nairobi Park

Nairobi Park is an unusual spot. Only seven kilometers from the very centre of Nairobi, it has 117 square km of protected game park that has many species of animals including giraffes, buffalo, lions, black rhinos, crocodiles, several species of antelopes and birds. It is fenced along the city side but is open at the south-west end to allow free migration in and out from the Serengeti system. As the population of Nairobi and surrounding area grows, humans are increasingly encroaching on this ecosystem and soon it will likely be cut off entirely from the larger game areas of the Serengeti, Amboseli and Massai Mara.

Although it feels a bit like a zoo, it is a natural open environment for local wild animals – no cages and the carnivores hunt down their food. It is a large area and, depending on how long you have to drive in the park or how long the grass is, you can see many animals or just a few. We arrived in Nairobi on Sunday evening and by 4 pm on Monday had seen gazelles, giraffes, hartebeest, topi and even one female lion who was resting up not far from a herd of antelope – likely waiting for dusk to make a hunt. When she lay down in the long grass she melted away and was impossible to see. Great camouflage.

A group of giraffes munched on the leaves of trees in one area against a backdrop of the city.

The park also has an area containing the ashes from the historic burning in of elephant tusks ivory worth sixty million Kenyan Shillings 1989 – a demonstration of the government’s commitment to putting a moratorium on ivory sales. For some time the poaching of elephants for their tusks diminished however, even as recent as last week, there has been more news about elephant poaching in one of the other Kenyan parks. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-20944859)
There are no elephants in Nairobi Park.