Flight of the Elephants is an Australian documentary produced by David Adams Films which follows eight Asian elephants over a period of two years and tells the inside story of the dilemmas and politics concerning large mammal conservation as they head for a new life in Australia.
The documentary aired for the first time in South Africa on DStv's Nat Geo Wild channel on Tuesday 17 June 2008, at 21h00. It is an hour long.
Wednesday 18 June: 00h00
Thursday 19 June: 03h00
Friday 20 June: 22h00
Saturday 21 June: 01h00
Sunday 22 June: 04h00
Tuesday 24 June: 10h00, 16h00
Wednesday 25 June: 22h00
Thursday 26 June: 01h00
Filmed over a period of two years, Flight of the Elephants is the incredible account of eight Asian elephants as they journey from rural Thailand, experience months of quarantine, embark on an enormous Russian Ilyushin to a remote Indian Ocean island and then finally arrive at their new homes in the Sydney and Melbourne Zoos.
As the elephants are prepared for the journey we follow the army of workers, veterinarians, court officials, politicians, keepers, scientists, horticulturalists, cargo experts and countless others who make the journey possible or problematic.
We experience the emotion as animal rights court actions delay the transfer for over a year. Then, on the day of transfer, Thai nationalist protesters prevent the transfer once again.
Only a secret midnight run enables the elephants to make it to the airport on time and make the flight to the remote Cocos Islands - Australia's quarantine station - and then finally to their purpose built state-of-the-art enclosures in Sydney and Melbourne Zoos, the first major step in a project that will contribute to the survival of the species.
Flight of the Elephants highlights the dilemmas facing large mammal conservation.
Asiatic Elephants were once vital for transport and cultivation in South East Asia but that role has been supplanted by technology. Today, they are classed as endangered and now hover at only one tenth the population of the African Elephant.
Worldwide, only 35,000 remain; in Thailand that number is only 5,000. Elephants are vulnerable to all manner of threats and need large areas of forest in the wild. Habitat loss and fragmentation threatens them throughout their range.
As habitat becomes fragmented elephants come into increasing, often fatal conflict with humans and agriculture.
However the transfer of the elephants is only part of this action packed account.
Filmed in far eastern India and Myanmar as well as Thailand, the film explores the plight of all Asian elephants, delving into their past as beast of war and beast of burden, brought to life with exclusive footage of elephants being trained for Oliver Stone's Alexander.
We meet the Thai at the forefront of Elephant conservation - local people with distinctly different approaches. We travel with elephants to the Tsunami disaster area on the coast of Thailand and witness their tender retrieval of human bodies.
We are present when a rogue killer elephant is captured, not to be killed but to be retrained and we witness the spiritual connection, as an honoured elephant - long dead - is exhumed and transferred to a Monastery.
Flight of the Elephants is ultimately a unique portal into the plight of the Asian Elephant.
Filmed both from a Western and from an Asian perspective, the film explores the tragic collisions of man and beast and the politics of wildlife transfers, speaking plainly about the necessary steps to save this remarkable animal.