Super Tusker Elephants were thought to have vanished, until they reappeared in Tsavo National Park
11th November 2019 by Will Stewart
Film maker Goh Iromoto introduces the majestic, and once thought to be extinct, Super Tusker Elephants. Native to Tsavo National Park in Kenya, these huge, prehistoric looking creatures were not so long ago much more numerous in the region. As with much of the wildlife that’s disappeared in our lifetime, competition for space with humans is the main reason for their decline. But thanks to the help of the fantastic Tsavo Trust, and the work they do with local communities, the fight to keep these elephants from extinction continues. Goh tells us in his own words more about the film and how it was made.
MadeGood – Please give me some background on yourself as a film maker. Is this a typical example of the sort of film that you make?
Goh – I started filmmaking over 16 years ago with a keen interest in documentary filmmaking – I really loved travel and finding human stories that made me reflect and feel something. Ever since, I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to work in many places around the world on various different projects. Mainly though, I’d describe myself as a commercial director – in that most of the work I do is either motivated by a marketing initiative or funded by private companies or organizations. What I feel lucky about is that in many cases, the projects I do – even for television commercial work – still relate to adventure and capturing human stories. Only in the last few years did I delve more into filming wildlife – and as a result this project eventually came around.
MadeGood – How did you find out about the Super Tusker Elephants, and what drew you to make a film about them? How did you find the interviewee in your film?
Goh – We had previously done work for a Kenyan lodge company called Bush & Beyond – and through them they connected us with Tsavo Trust. By then, I had grown an immense passion for both wildlife and the people of Kenya (my wife and I even got married in Kenya earlier this year!) – so to work on a project for a group of elephants that were so unique and rare was something that drew me right away. We were very lucky to have the Co-founder and CEO of Tsavo Trust Richard Moller support and guide us in finding the elephants and sharing his story of them as well. In the end, what drew me most to this story was the growing narrative of wildlife and human conflict – especially when it comes to the fight for space on our planet. I foresee more and more conversations coming up on how our growing human population is going to manage co-existing with wildlife habitats. It’s really something that I see globally as tougher and tougher realities.
MadeGood – I find it incredible that people thought these elephants had disappeared completely. How’s it possible that such a huge and majestic creature disappears from view!?
Goh – It’s easy to think that they’ve gone extinct because for most of us they’re really hard to find and see! We spent days trying to track even one super tusker – and that’s with the help of collared GPS devices, as well as intel from ground patrol units and aerial surveillance!
I personally didn’t even know they existed and when I saw one in person I felt an intense rush of adrenaline as I felt that I was in the presence of something prehistoric like a wooly mammoth. He was called ‘Lugard’ and he was truly massive and majestic. I should mention how the super tuskers are still amongst the elephant species, they just carry a different gene. In combination of being able to live long lives and the nutrients and minerals that exist in the Tsavo region, it allows for their tusks to reach over a 100lbs each.
Interestingly enough, not so long ago super tuskers were more common. But due to human conflict, the entire elephant populations has gone down quite a lot – I saw black and white images where the landscape was just riddled with elephants. Now the reduction can due to poachers of course, but there’s also a lot of issues with the local communities who have taken the lives of elephants since they’re seen as a nuisance to their villages and crops – in many cases elephants have killed their family members during clashes or through accidental encounters in the bush.
I think what’s important to understand here is this notion to protect elephants (and even preserve wildlife as a whole) is in a sense an ideology tied to certain cultures and beliefs. While to me it seems like a common value that should be universal, I’ve come to learn this isn’t the case with all cultures. Perhaps growing up with movies and stories that anthropomorphize animals was a big help – but it’s something that communities in the bush didn’t all have. So instead of demonizing those that have done harm to wildlife, I’m very much in support of the perspective of helping to understand the value of protecting wildlife – especially as it ends up having a tremendous amount of benefits to the local villages. It maintains balance within their ecosystem and other necessary wildlife/plantlife for their livelihood, and the financial benefits from tourism – which outweighs the cost of making the elephant population go extinct.
MadeGood – Please tell me a bit about how it was logistically working in Kenya?
Goh – Filming in Kenya comes with its challenges for sure. To do things officially, there’s a lot of bureaucratic paperwork/permissions and film permit fees you have to get – or otherwise, you have to have an understanding of bribery as well. I’ve also had colleagues be asked for large sums of money by custom officers that were completely illegitimate. So you just have to have a good guide or a knack for those sort of things.
Once you get through those hurdles though, it’s a pretty amazing country to film in. All the staff that have helped us out in the past have all been extremely supportive to work with – and if you have any issues, you’re often encouraged with the saying “This is Africa, anything is possible!”. It may not always calm the nerves, but I truly love the enthusiasm!
We’ve also been lucky enough to work with one of the best ground handling companies in Kenya who’ve been incredible with coordinating logistics around the bush. Many places we’ve gone and stayed (including tsavo) are quite remote. So having a team co-ordinate logistics always helps.
You can fly or drive to get around places – and it can get bumpy and dusty at times but with some patience the whole country is actually quite accessible. And it all makes for a great adventure 🙂
MadeGood – What are you working on next?
Goh – I’m in the process of editing a film that’s a bit more narrative based (rather than documentary). When we filmed Tsavo Trust, we shot for 7 days – but we actually spent another 40 days filming in other parts of Kenya for another project. The working title is “Land of the Living” and I look forward to sharing it later in 2020.
MadeGood – Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Goh. Good luck with the narrative piece, I can’t wait to see it!