Filmmaker Encounters Aroused and Potentially Aggressive Elephant

Bob Poole films as a large bull elephant in musth approaches.

“About 97 percent of all the elephants were killed, and the ones that are left don’t like us very well,” says National Geographic filmmaker Bob Poole, referring to the elephants who live in Gorongosa National Park, a population that was heavily hunted by soldiers during Mozambique’s civil war.

During the 15-year war, elephants in Gorongosa were killed for their ivory tusks, which soldiers sold to purchase weapons. “Elephants were shot from vehicles, from army trucks, and 20 years later they still have a negative association with people and vehicles,” Poole explains. “Their reaction is very aggressive, because their association with people has been nothing but danger.”

Poole and his sister, Dr. Joyce Poole, a renowned African elephant expert and National Geographic explorer, are trying to teach the elephants that their relationship with people can be positive and that not all people come with ill intent.

“People in the park are having very terrifying experiences being charged and chased by elephants. Joyce and I both think that we can habituate these elephants to vehicles and people by showing them that we come in peace,” explains Bob Poole. “The danger in that is, of course, if we’re wrong, they could quite easily hit us.”

Joyce Poole often recalls the alarming answer her father gave when at six years old she asked him, “What will happen if that elephant charges?” His response: “He will crush the car to the size of a pea pod.” While Poole knows her father was exaggerating for effect, she always keeps his warning in mind when driving through the park.

“The trouble is that the elephants of Gorongosa have developed a culture of aggression—behavior passed on from mother to daughter. And as we well know, old habits die hard. But elephants are very savvy and learn quickly,” she says.

“We also know from our —> Read More