The Elephant Whisperers - Review

The Oscar winning documentary is about elephants and their non-biological parents - the elephant herds. Set in the picturesque Mudumalai forests in the Tamil Nadu – Kerala border, the 40-minute film showcases the mutual love of elephants and humans. 

Bomman has grown all his life rearing elephants in the forests. Raghu, an orphaned elephant arrives at the Mudumalai Elephant camp which is managed by the Department of Forests, State Government of Tamil Nadu. The reserve brings up elephants which have lost their way and their families due to herd movements. It also treats ailing elephants by loving care givers and veterinarians. Bomman offers milk and food to Raghu daily and spends all day playing and managing the baby elephant. A good wash for the elephant, which includes a detailed scrub and rinsing it in the flowing river water, could take a few hours. In the night, he sleeps in the same make-shift thatched tent where Raghu lives, always under his watchful eyes. 

Bellie was widowed when her husband was killed by a Tiger. Thereafter, she has been scared to be in the wild. She joins Bomman to take care of Raghu. Enter Ammu, another baby elephant which lost its way while its family was passing through the forests in search of water and food. Bomman and Bellie start giving a lot of love and care to Ammu. Raghu, who has to now share his care givers with another member, is initially jealous and restless. Eventually, they both start to get along well. Meanwhile, Bellie and Bomman decide to get married to spend the rest of their lives together. Ammu and Raghu are quite playful and keep Bellie and Bomman busy all day and night. 



One day, Bomman is asked to handover Raghu back to the department as the elephant has a new home and a mahout now. Where and why he is taken away is not mentioned in the film, though.


Bomman misses Raghu a lot and goes without food for a few days due to the anxiety of parting his bbay elephant whom he has reared like his own child. Eventually, he must come to terms with reality. Bomman is concerned about the man-elephant conflict. Deforestation has caused enormous difficulty for several animals and elephants are the most displaced. 


Kartiki Gonsalves has directed this film which is produced by Guneet Monga and Achin Jain. Kartiki’s mother Priscilla Gonsalves has written the narrative in a story form. Photography by Karan Thapliyal, Krish Makhija, Anand Bansal and Kartiki Gonsalves is outstanding and they have managed to get some good closeups of other wild animals too. Sven Faulconer has composed the background music which is mellow and suits the mood. Available to watch on Netflix.


Elephants are not pet animals. In fact, no animals is to be reared as pets, including dogs and cats. 


Until 300 years ago, there was no concept of pet animals. There is no historical evidence or documentation of any king, from Alexander the Great to the Mughals, all the way up to Indian Kings for over 2,000 years who ever had pets. Elephants were part of the arsenal and were hardly used. Merely having them in their war chest would scare away the enemies, it was said. 


The British, while colonising most parts of the world, started taming wolves and wild dogs and domesticated them outside their bungalows in forests and towns to ward off petty thieves. Over time, this has become a “pet passion” (sic) for millions of people worldwide. Today, the pet care industry worldwide is estimated to be US $ 240 billion pa. This includes pet food, accessories, toys, hygiene essentials and pet fashion. Sale of pets and animals is illegal per law in India. They can, however be adopted for personal use at home or at Zoos and temples. 


Nature (or God as one believes) has created a space for birds, animals, reptiles and mammals. Birds and animals should be in the wild and their respective natural dwellings, not in Zoos or homes or even at temples like at many such places in India. Cows, buffaloes and Oxen are for rearing and supporting agriculture, and deserve a dignified afterlife once they complete their productive years instead of being sent to abattoirs or slaughter houses for becoming someone else’s food. Cats and rats thrive on smaller animals and insects, mostly without causing much disturbance to humans.


Elephants have started trespassing human lives and our lands because we humans have encroached enormous forest lands. This is true, especially in Tamil Nadu where the elephant corridors now boast of State and National Highways. A few days back, a young man who tried to take a selfie with a lone elephant was killed by the animal. It is always said that a lone elephant is more dangerous than a herd. 


Ultimately, animals, including snakes, attack humans for fear of being attacked. As is said, mankind is an extremely selfish tribe. We will go all lengths to keep ourselves happy. We are only getting better. 

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