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'Africa's Elephant Kingdom'

Omnimax film follows a herd of elephants

Friday, June 28, 2002

By Adrian McCoy

For anyone who has ever been fascinated by the interactions between the adult and baby elephants at the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium, "Africa's Elephant Kingdom" offers an up-close look at the family and social bonds that exist between elephants in the wild. This Omnimax film opens today at Carnegie Science Center.

Elephant Kingdom'

WHERE: Carnegie Science Center's Rangos Omnimax Theater.

WHEN: Opens today and runs through Dec.19.

INFORMATION: 412-237-3400.


Filmed in Kenya's Amboseli National Park and other national parks in Kenya and Zimbabwe, it follows in the massive footsteps of an African elephant family over a period of six months.

The film's scientific consultant Iain Douglas-Hamilton tracked the elephant family in an airplane, and he was able to help the filmmakers be in the right place at the right time for some lucky shots. The camera captures footage that even a seasoned elephant observer in the wild would be lucky to see -- mock fighting displays, babies at play, a newborn learning to walk -- and an awe-inspiring sequence of a large male charging directly toward the camera -- an experience that's best experienced vicariously.

They used helicopters, cranes and balloons to get aerial views of the herd. "Africa's Elephant Kingdom" captures the African landscape and spectacular scenery that the large-screen format works so well with, but it also tells a compelling and emotional story of life among elephants, and how they survive and endure an often-hard existence.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Old Bull, a 60-year-old male. Other principal characters include the matriarch of the family and two baby elephants.

The matriarch is the leader, and responsible for leading the clan, for remembering the lay of the land -- where the food and water is, where the humans aren't.

The group of about 40 elephants has a happy hunting ground in the massive swamplands. But when a withering drought comes, they're forced to range far and wide in search of food.

Some don't make it. The group tries to help an adult that can no longer stand up. A mother stands helplessly next to her dead calf, while the others come up to comfort her. As hard as these scenes are to watch, they show the group's strong support system, loyalty and affection at work.

Elephants are very social animals, and "Elephant Kingdom" does a good job in tracing the outlines of their society. It shows us a group of animals with some very human qualities -- without humanizing them.

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