'Born to be Wild' 3-D follows decades of tireless work to save orphaned baby elephants and orangutans
Spectacular 3-D movie narrated by Morgan Freeman
Published Tuesday, June 7, 2011, 9:02 AM
Updated Friday, June 17, 2011, 11:56 AM
If you lucky enough to ever find a fairy godmother, you couldn't do much better than Daphne M. Sheldrick, 76, who runs an elephant nursery on the edge of Nairobi National Park - or indeed Birute Mary Galdikas, 64, who runs her Orangutan Care Center a world away in the baking hot jungles of Borneo.
Born To Be Wild, the new Imax 3D film that explores their life's work and brings these two remarkable women together, closely follows their decades long fight to raise and protect orphaned baby elephants and orangutans in captivity and then return them to the wild.
Narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman, this unmissable film shows us the animal orphanages the two women built in Kenya and Borneo to care for their vulnerable - and often terrified - young charges.
When a baby elephantÕs mother is killed, the baby loses its tutor and protector; it will have no one to teach it how to survive in the wild. The same rule applies for baby orangutans. When disaster strikes and they are separated due to hunters, or the illegal pet trade, or because they have been targeted for food, their vulnerable offspring has no one to teach them how to forage for food in the plains or in the forest.
What to do about this challenge is the subject of Born To Be Wild. Thankfully both Galdikas and Sheldrick have been successful at their respective quests: after years of experimentation Sheldrick finally created a milk formula - essential to maintain the health of baby elephants - that allowed the young elephants in her care to thrive. Meanwhile Galdikas and her staff of 200 have returned about 400 orangutans to the wild and currently have around 330 at her care centre.
Asked what she has learned about elephants after decades of interaction and close study, Sheldrick told Irish Central: 'Elephants can teach us about caring, about compassion; the males are equally as caring as the females. Sometimes when water is very scare the adult males will push the females aside to allow the babies to come and drink.
They can teach us about being gentle and humble and living in peace with all other creatures in nature. They're just amazing animals with amazing and mysterious perception. It's been a great privilege to watch them grow to adulthood.
Each piece of ivory represents the death of a magnificent animal that has all the human emotions and perceptions and has a projected lifespan of 70 plus years. They have the same sense of family and death as we do. They are very caring animals, and in some ways, they are just better than us.'
Galdikas has a similar regard for the orangutans, those stoic and often mysterious creatures who are seldom reactive or outwardly emotional. They have a serenity, she says, that captivates the human viewer.
But how do you get started on a lifetime spent rescuing these magnificent creatures from human thoughtlessness?
"I was born in Kenya and I never imagined raising wild elephants. But I married into the wildlife service and the elephants just came," Sheldrick says with a laugh. "It can be a hard business raising elephants, because sometimes one the babies can die for no discernible reason at all - and it can certainly hunt you. But all in all the successes outweigh the sorrows.'
Galdikas, for her part, had no doubt she would spend her life in the study and conservation of her charges. 'I knew when I was a child that I would work with them. I read books about orangutans and there was something in their eyes hat convinced me I was born to study them. Something about them fascinated me. I had no interest in chimpanzees even though they are our closest living relative.'
The challenge of making the film was considerable, since the Imax cameras themselves posed the biggest problems.
'Imax cameras are big and heavy, there's no getting around that,' says director of photography David Doglas. 'They weigh about 75 pounds, so they make for challenging instruments when it comes to filming wildlife. In that case you have to be able to predict what's going to happen. To get around it we built the first Imax digital camera and this is the first Imax digital film.'
When Sheldrick and Galdikas' work is done and the day comes to return the animals in their care to the wild - a magical sequence in the film that you'll never forget - you can actually see their love for their human helpers compete with the call of the wild.
It's a leave-taking that's moving and inspiring simultaneously. 'It's difficult for them, having been orphaned once and brought up by humans,' says Sheldrick. 'They will always love their human family and the people that raised them - because it is true that elephants don't forget - but they will also later hear from other wild elephants who have no reason to like the human community. They learn from them as well.'
If you're thinking that protecting the animals from hunters or loggers is the greatest threat they face, think again. It's not just illegal trading or logging that is upending the elephants and orangutans world.
'One of the greatest challenges we face is not facing down ivory hunters, poachers or illegal loggers - it's securing enough funding for the work to go on,' says Galdikas. "I've been doing this for 40 years and it's seemed like one miracle after another in terms of keeping the work going."
It's to be hoped that this magical film will help to make their case for them. Spend some time in the company of Born To Be Wild Imax 3D and we think it could make a passionate conservationist out of you too.
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