NATURE chronicles African elephants’ families through stunning film and still photos in Unforgettable Elephants.
We have seen them dressed in costumes and dancing at circuses, living solitary lives at zoos or giving our children a thrill with a ride on their back. But the largest land animals live a life that is completely foreign to us when left to their own in the wild — one complete with battles and births, kidnappings and camaraderie. More than fifteen years ago, Martyn Colbeck began to document in film and photos the lives of African elephants. For the better part of two decades, he has grown particularly close to the elephant matriarch, Echo, and her close-knit family, who have never failed to astonish, amuse, and inspire him.
The family seems to accept Colbeck into their world, and perhaps even considers him one of their own. The result is that he can record unimpeded the gentle love, and tight bonds that elephants feel for each other. Colbeck’s film gives us a glimpse into the complex world of elephant society. We meet Echo and begin to understand the importance of such a majestic matriarch to her devoted clan. He shows us their language and ways of communication. And he captures remarkable scenes such as the rare birth of a crippled calf that the family desperately and collectively tries to help to its feet. The film causes us to question if this could be about more than simply survival. Is there a deeper emotion we have just been privileged enough to witness through Colbeck’s lens?
In scene after moving scene, Colbeck makes us fall in love with Echo, Erin, Enid, Ely, and the rest of this loving family. He conveys through his film and in a special interview with NATURE what complicated, powerful, tender, funny — and, yes, unforgettable — creatures elephants are.
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Online content for Unforgettable Elephants was originally posted April 2007.