Reviews TV

Secrets of the Elephants Shines a Spotlight on One of Earth’s Most Complex Mammals

Have you ever taken the time to listen to an elephant? The stories they tell, the paths in life they decide to take are mesmerizing and relatable, making you feel connected to the larger universe. Elephants are always communicating, and it’s more complex than you can ever imagine. If you ever just stopped and paid attention to an elephant, you would learn they have a lot to say. Their deep-rooted sounds can pierce the ground or even travel miles away. They plan, they soothe, they fight, and they love. They’re just like us. As the largest mammals on land, they are majestic beauties that’s part of pop-culture, and yet, there is still a lot to learn and capture about elephants for us all to see.

National Geographic wants to change this with Secrets of the Elephants. Just in time for Earth Day, this follow-up to Secrets of the Whales is a four-part series that beautifully highlights the resilience of these majestic animals, as well as their emotional intelligence and social structures, while driving home the importance of protecting elephants around the world and ensuring their continued survival.

Executive produced by James Cameron, Secrets of the Elephants showcases four types of elephants (savanna, desert, African forest, and Asian). Just like Whales, Elephants shines a spotlight on giant animals who thrived on Earth for millions of years. However, since the arrival of humans, they have been hunted, persecuted, and their population is falling into decline at an alarming rate.

Desert elephant family in the Namib Desert, Namibia. (National Geographic)

Narrated by Natalie Portman, Secrets of the Elephants tells the stories of elephants across a variety of ecosystems through gorgeous and breathtaking cinematography that puts the viewers right in the action of Central African Republic, Gabon, Kenya, Namibia, Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe Borneo, Thailand and India as it educates and entertains along the way.

National Geographic Explorer’s Dr. Paula Kahumbu is a standout as her passion for conservation and love for these mammals is profound. Viewers feel her joy leap through the screen as she encounters forest elephants for the first time in the wild. Living deep in the dark forest, they are very difficult to study, and a lot of the behavior is not fully known. They have been hunted and face trauma for hundreds of years. Therefore, they are weary and scared of humans. Their actions can be unpredictable and dangerous as a result. But to Dr. Kahumbu they are some of the most beautiful creatures ever seen and their mysterious lives offers a path of possibilities.

The first episode introduces viewers to “what might be the toughest place on Earth to be an elephant’ as life in the Namib Desert in Namibia is explored. Already in the throes of climate change, life for an elephant only gets worse with unpredictable weather and a shifting climate has contributed a decrease of elephant populations. But not all is lost as Poole and his team were filming — the first time a desert elephant birth has ever been captured on film, which was a miracle since the land suffered through a catastrophic drought the resulted in a spell of babies dying soon after their birth and the herd. Not only did their calf live but they shockingly were treated to the first rainstorm in years.

A lone elephant uses its trunk to spray dust onto its skin. (National Geographic for Disney/Robbie Labanowski)

Filmed and followed over the course of months, Elephants offers truly some of the most mesmerizing moments as it travels the globe to unveils never before seen stories about — and intimate peeks at — these massive of land animals, whose rich emotional lives are similar to humans in a plethora of ways but always surpasses human capabilities.

While elephants are capable of expressing compassion, cooperation, empathy, generosity, grief, playfulness and resilience. Their advance cognitive skills offer strategic intelligence, acute sense of smell and intricate language communication and their brains their complex ability to remember. Ever heard of the phrase explains ‘memory like an elephant?’. Within these four episodes, the show captures newly discovered elephant behaviors while breaking down an elephant’s anatomy. Did you know the sensitive pads on an elephant’s foot can detect seismic information? Even their inner ear can pick up ground vibrations via bone conduction.

While climate change and humans are the biggest threats to elephants, the series offers an optimistic path through which future generations know elephants not just through the stories of Babar and Dumbo but through protected spaces where they can continue to live the way nature intended them to.

A family of elephants roams through Kimana Sanctuary, a crucial corridor that links Amboseli National Park with the Chyulu Hills and Tsavo protected areas in Kenya, on May 23, 2022. As well as being the largest land mammal on earth, elephants are a keystone species and play an important role in the environment where they live. However, having roamed the wild for 15 million years, today, this iconic species faces the biggest threats to its survival due to ivory poaching, human-wildlife conflict and habitat destruction. (National Geographic for Disney/Nichole Sobecki)

Elephants are powerful, loving and wise, but scientists are only starting to unlock their deepest secrets. As Earth Day approaches and this series airs, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, viewers can all do their part in conservation and saving the lives of these mammals. 

Just because humans are living in a system that can be destructive, there are people like the ones portrayed in this series who are willing to help elephants. Secrets of the Elephants shows wildlife is worth protecting. Elephants, humans and other species are more connected than originally thought. Watching this series will change everything people thought they knew about elephants forever, which can lead society to change for the benefit of all.

Secrets of the Elephants Earth Day premiere begins Friday, April 21 on National Geographic. All episodes stream April 22 on Disney+ and Hulu.

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