Elephant Path: A Story of Hope and War in CAR

Submitted by Naturenomics Team on Thu, 15/08/2019 - 14:13
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Author Credit

By Todd McGrain

Elephants mate, play, and look after their young in Dzanga Bai, a remote rainforest area in the Central African Republic [Al Jazeera]
Abstract

Elephants mate, play, and look after their young in Dzanga Bai, a remote rainforest area in the Central African Republic [Al Jazeera]

A Bayaka elder, an American biologist, and an eco-guard study and protect elephants in CAR until conflict strikes.

Editor's note: This film is no longer available to view online.

In the rainforests of the Central African Republic (CAR) is Dzanga Bai, a remote clearing where a tall canopy of trees - full of the hum of insects and calls of wildlife - gives way to soft mud and pools of water. Here, some of the rainforests' largest mammals gather.

Forest elephants - each with their own markings, scars, and personalities - bathe in mud, look after their young, search for mates, and play with each other.

On an observation platform nearby, Sessely Bernard, a tracker and elder of the Bayaka people, and Andrea Turkalo, an American field biologist, sit side-by-side, recording the elephants' behaviour. For 23 years Bernard and Turkalo have watched the elephants grow and can identify them by name.

Sharing their platform is Zephirine Mbele, an eco-guard dedicated to protecting the animals from poachers.

Uniting the three is their profound respect for the elephants: For Bernard, they are co-inhabitants of his homeland; for Turkalo, the focus of her research, and for Mbele, the subjects of his safekeeping.

But in this quiet clearing the rumbling of conflict is not far away.

Seleka rebel fighters, who have overthrown the government, are approaching Dzanga-Ndoki National Park and the elephants' home.

In the coming days, Bernard, who knows the river stream where he was born, the medicinal use of plants underfoot, and the calls and cries of the elephants he tracks, hears an unwelcome sound tear across his home: Gunshots.

Witness follows him and the others as they study and protect the elephants and who - when conflict strikes - must face the possibility of walking away.

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