What unfolds when a tribal couple decides to foster orphaned baby elephants? What happens when their story moves everyone around the world? What happens when the documentary on them receives recognition at the Oscars?
Competing alongside international documentaries such as Haulout, The Martha Michell Effect, Stranger at the Gate, and How Do You Measure a Year?, the Indian documentary made by an Ooty-based wildlife photographer turned filmmaker, The Elephant Whisperers, emerged as the Oscar winner in the category of Best Documentary (Short Subject) at the 95th Academy Awards.
The 40-minute-long, heartwarming documentary captures the life of a tribal couple and their unbreakable bond with orphaned elephants.
Who are the heroes of The Elephant Whisperers?
Hailing from Theppakadu in the Mudumalai forests of Tamil Nadu, the couple, Bomman and Bellie, belong to the forest dwelling community, the Kattunayakar Tribe. Their tribe originally lived on forest produce in the past and later became mahouts, taking care of elephants.
Bomman is an elephant mahout with the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, working at the oldest elephant camp in Asia, Theppakadu Elephant Camp. Bellie, who had initially feared wild animals after her first husband was killed by a tiger, was soon hired temporarily to take care of the two elephant calves. This is when Bomman and Bellie met and married each other.
The duo, Bomman and Bellie, are the caretakers who shower their raw and pure love for two elephant calves, Raghu and Ammu. In May 2017, the two-month-old male elephant Raghu, who was bitten by wild dogs, was rescued and brought into the Theppakadu Elephant Camp. Raghu’s mother elephant died of electrocution in Krishnagiri. In June 2019, Ammu was a five-month-old female calf orphaned in the Sathyamangalam forests in western Tamil Nadu.
Familial bond beyond species...
From feeding the calves milk and food on time to providing for their medical needs, the couple have been tending the young calves as if they were their own kids. Even at a time when their son was admitted to a hospital with severe burn injuries and was battling for his life, the couple did not abandon the animals and took care of them. Their son succumbed to injuries later. After Raghu grew up, the elephant was given to another mahout. The couple currently lives at the Theppakadu Elephant Camp with Ammu.
About the Oscar-winning documentary, The Elephant Whisperers
Produced by Guneet Monga, the Kartiki Gonsalves’ directorial debut deals with the harmonious relationship between nature, animals, and humans. The Elephant Whisperers released on Netflix in December 2022.