Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Natural World: Sri Lanka: Elephant Island

This old-school documentary starring Nimal the three-legged elephant travels at a pleasingly gentle pace
 Natural World
Walk on the wild side … Natural World: Sri Lanka: Elephant Island (BBC2). Photograph: Mike Birkhead/BBC/Mike Birkhead

I once had a run-in with an elephant in Sri Lanka. No, seriously, I did. I surprised him, he wasn't happy about it, he chased me. But I was too quick. To be fair to the elephant, I was on a motorbike. Scary, though. I say "he" – it might have been a she, perhaps protecting a baby.
Anyway, I think it might have been the one headbutting the Land Rover in Natural World – Sri Lanka: Elephant Island (BBC2). I recognise the look it has in its eye. It's not all Babar, you know; elephants are said to have killed 50 people in Sri Lanka last year. There are always stories in the papers there about fatal tramplings.
This other one, Nimal, isn't scary at all. Well, he's only a baby, two and a half years old, and he lives at an elephant orphanage. Aaahh. Like Dickens, only with trunks. They're so lovely when they're little, hairy and playful. But Nimal doesn't play with the other elephant orphans, or can't, and when he comes out of the river, the reason becomes clear – he only has three legs.
He was caught in a snare, and the orphanage people couldn't save his leg. How entirely evil, whoever set that trap. Nimal, the three-legged elephant who plays on his own and who will never be released back into the wild, is just about the saddest thing in the world. He has a prosthetic leg, but it's not very good. It keeps falling off.

This film, by cameraman and elephant expert Martyn Colbeck, is an old-school wildlife documentary. There are a few birds and fish about the place (I liked that bit), but basically it's about elephants. A single species, filmed painstakingly, over time, by one bloke with a camera. In these days of high technology, concepts and themes, amazing shots, going inside things, and strapping cameras to them so they film themselves – God knows what else – it does seem a little old-fashioned. Slow, you might say. But once you've settled into the groove of it, the pace seems appropriate. Elephants are slow, mainly. Until they come at you.

Natural World 2013 2014 Sri Lanka Elephant Island 1
Sri Lanka, the tropical island lying off the southern coast of India, is home to its own special elephants. A sub species of the Asian elephant, they have their own unique characteristics. In this programme, award winning wildlife cameraman Martyn Colbeck of Echo of the Elephants fame travels to Sri Lanka to try and get to know them. Martyn has planned his arrival to coincide with the start of the monsoon, hoping it will be the best time to find and follow a new born calf. By drawing on local knowledge, Martyn begins to unravel the complex social world of Sri Lanka's elephants - he witnesses a fight over a calf, a battle between two bulls in musk and, at an elephant sanctuary, befriends an orphaned elephant who sadly lost a leg to a snare and is facing an uncertain future.