Elephant Path - Njaia Njoku
Filmed in the Central African rainforest against the backdrop of a violent civil conflict, Elephant Path - Njaia Njoku captures two critical years in the lives of one of the last wild herds of Forest Elephants. When 26 elephants are killed by rebels determined to turn ivory into weapons of war, American biologist Andrea Turkalo, Bayaka tracker Sessely Bernard, Bantu eco-guard Zephirine Mbele and Israeli security contactor Nir Kalron face dramatically different futures bound by the realities of affluence, nationality, poverty and race.
The project began when Todd McGrain met Andrea Turkalo, a renowned elephant behavioral biologist and member of the Elephant Listening Project at Cornell University. Andrea had recently arrived in Ithaca to help her collaborators decode the vocalizations of forest elephants.
Andrea’s descriptions of the rainforest, the indigenous people she has worked along side, and the peril the elephants were facing set a path for Todd that he would follow for the next 4 years. Along the way he would travel with security contractors, go on patrol with eco-guards, and spend extended time in the forest with the Bayaka people, who were avoiding the civil conflict unfolding across the country. Sessely Bernard, a Bayaka elder, had worked with Andrea for 23 years. It was Sessely and his extended family that truly gave me this remarkable unfolding story.
There are common elements in every contemporary extinction story: unchecked market forces, corruption, greed, overexploitation, and habitat loss. A more optimistic commonality between these tragic histories is the presence of a dedicated and inspiring group of thoughtful and forward looking people sounding the alarm of impending loss. It is our hope that the efforts of these people will be fortified by this film. Elephant Path / Njaia Njoku is their story.