Few animals hold more fascination for humans than elephants. For centuries they’ve been adored, inspired great works of art, and even been revered as gods, yet they have also been treated with cruelty. AN APOLOGY TO ELEPHANTS explores the abuse of these ancient and intelligent animals and shows how some people are reversing the trend. Narrated and executive produced by Lily Tomlin and directed by Emmy® winner Amy Schatz, with narration written by Jane Wagner.
As a keystone species, elephants promote biodiversity, helping trees, plants and animals flourish; as highly intelligent, empathetic and social animals, they are unique and remarkable creatures. But humans have poached elephants, chained and trained them in captivity, and destroyed their natural habitats. “The first thing we need to know is that the elephants need our help,” says Lily Tomlin.
AN APOLOGY TO ELEPHANTS spotlights elephants’ importance to global ecology and the environment. Known as the “gardeners of the forest,” they clear large trees and branches for food, which makes way for smaller plants and animals to thrive. However, due to the ivory trade and habitat destruction, elephant species are considered either vulnerable or endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and are at risk of extinction within the next ten years. “Extinction is part of the pattern of life on the planet, but we’re amping up the rate at which extinctions occur,” says paleontologist Dr. Ross MacPhee.
In America, elephants have been big business ever since the first animal arrived on U.S. shores in 1796. AN APOLOGY TO ELEPHANTS describes the often-brutal treatment elephants undergo when they are trained to perform, the psychological trauma they suffer and the physical damage done by inadequate living conditions in some zoos and circuses.
“The elephants live in fear their whole lives,” says Jeff Kinzley, elephant manager at California’s Oakland Zoo, which is pioneering a more humane approach to managing captive elephants. After an elephant keeper was killed in 1991, the zoo changed to a “protected contact” approach, which employs a barrier between the keepers and the animal. Elephants are managed by reward and positive reinforcement, rather than force, and these large migratory animals are given the space required to exercise their bodies.
The PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Society) Elephant Sanctuary in California provides hundreds of acres of land for rescued and retired elephants to heal and live out the rest of their lives in peace. One resident, Lulu, was captured as a baby and became so mentally disturbed after years in captivity that she was prone to throw things at people. One of Pat Derby’s “special projects,” Lulu is now seen extending an affectionate foot through the bars of her spacious enclosure. “If there’s a dream, this is the dream,” says Derby of the sanctuary and her hopes for healing elephants.
In addition to footage of elephants in the wild and in captivity, AN APOLOGY TO ELEPHANTS includes interviews with elephant biologists, scientists and activists, including PAWS co-founders Ed Stewart and the late Pat Derby; Dr. Joyce Poole, director of the conservation group Elephant Voices; Colleen Kinzley, curator at Oakland Zoo; Dr. Joel Parrott, director of Oakland Zoo; Dr. Mel Richardson, a captive wildlife veterinarian; Katy Payne, founder of the Elephant Listening Project; Cynthia Moss, director of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants; and Dr. Raman Sukumar, a professor at the Indian Institute of Science.
Emmy® winner Amy Schatz has produced and directed numerous HBO specials, including “A Child’s Garden of Poetry,” “Classical Baby,” “Through a Child’s Eyes: September 11, 2001” and “Goodnight Moon & Other Sleepytime Tales.” She has won four DGA Awards and her films have received seven Primetime Emmy Awards® in the Outstanding Children’s Program category.
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AN APOLOGY TO ELEPHANTS is executive produced by Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner; directed and produced by Amy Schatz; narrated by Lily Tomlin; producer, Beth Aala; narration written by Jane Wagner; editor, Tom Patterson. For HBO: supervising producer, Lisa Heller; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.