The 3rd Annual New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival (WFCC.org) runs from January 30 – February 2, 2013. Ahead of the event, Mongabay.com is running a series of Q&As with filmmakers and presenters. For more interviews, please see our WCFF feed.
Baby elephant who lost apart of her leg to a landmine. Image courtesy of Donald Tayloe.
Few animals draw more compassion and awe from people than elephants. Highly intelligent, deeply social, and touchingly sensitive, elephants have much in common with human beings, despite their size and shape. Yet elephants around the world are still often abused and mistreated, whether to entertain tourists or as victims of human strife. A new film, The Last Elephants in Thailand, sets out to document both the good and bad that elephants encounter in a world dominated by homo sapiens.
The film, produced Donald Tayloe and Michelle Mizner, looks at the various ways humans either hurt or help Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in Thailand, including building a prosthetic for an injured calf at an Elephant Hospital, painfully–through beatings and cages–forcing elephants to paint, pressing elephants into servitude for tourists’ amusement, and highlighting a sanctuary for rescued elephants that focuses not just on elephant rehabilitation, but also on educating people.
The Last Elephants of Thailand is making its New York City premiere Friday, February 1 at the 3rd Annual New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival. Ahead of its premiere, Tayloe answered some questions from Mongabay.com about the film and his career. A longtime physician, 70-year-old Tayloe jumped into the project headfirst, picking up recent college-graduate Mizner, who he’d never met before, along the way. The result has been award-winning, including Best Documentary Short at the 2010 San Antonino Film Festival and Best Conservation Film at the 2010 Venice Green Screen Film Festival.
Trailer for the Last Elephants of Thailand.
AN INTERVIEW WITH DONALD TAYLOE
Mongabay.com: What is your background?
Donald Tayloe: I am a physician at the Veterans Hospital in Fresno California.
Mongabay.com: How long have you been making films? What are some other examples of your work?
Donald Tayloe: This is the first film that we made. I was 70 years old, and Michelle had just graduated from College. I had heard about this Elephant Hospital in Thailand, since I was a physician, I just went and bought a camera off the shelf and was ready to go when I met Micelle for the first time and asked her to go along. She majored in film and she said OK. We had never met before.
Mongabay.com: Why did you these elephants as the topic of your film?
Donald Tayloe: I am an animal advocate, and here were injured and sick elephants in a hospital.
Mongabay.com: What is the plot of the film?
Michelle Mizner filming the Last Elephants in Thailand. Image courtesy of Donald Tayloe.
Donald Tayloe:There are many plots, the treatment of elephants who have had their feet blow off by landmines, elephants begging in the streets of Bangkok, the day to day activities of the hospital, and a part about an elephant sanctuary: “Elephant Nature Park” in Thailand. Finally and very important is the torture elephants have to endure to learn to “paint.”
Mongabay.com: What was the most exciting or interesting part of making the film?
Donald Tayloe: The actual filming and being there.
Mongabay.com: What draws you to the natural world?
Donald Tayloe: Love of animals.
Mongabay.com: What impact do you hope this film will have?
Donald Tayloe: I hope this film will bring to the publics attention the desperate trouble elephants are in.
Mongabay.com: Is this the debut? Are you planning to show it elsewhere?
Donald Tayloe: Our film as been shown all over the world. We have been in over 20 film festivals. Our web site is: www.thelastelephants.com. We have over 15,000 hits on youtube.
Mongabay.com: How did you come to work with WCFF?
Donald Tayloe: We had come together years ago because of the mutual interest in the environment and animals
Mongabay.com: What’s next on your agenda?
Donald Tayloe: I am working on a project about an elephant called “Sissy.” Michelle is a full time producer. We would like to make another film about elephants in zoos.
Captive elephants in Thailand. Image courtesy of Donald Tayloe.
Last Elephants in Thailand
Dr. Donald Tayloe & Michelle Mizner, Producers
* New York City Premiere
** Award Winner for Best Human & Nature Category
February 1, 6:30-8:30 PM – Purchase tickets
At the turn of the 20th Century, there were 100,000 elephants in Thailand. Today there are less than 4,000. Where are they going? Who is working to save them and what can you do to help? This film visits the world’s first elephant hospital and meets leading experts to discover why the country’s most revered species is fast disappearing.
Full film: The Last Elephants in Thailand.
(01/08/2013) Over the weekend Kenya suffered its single worst elephant poaching incident when poachers killed an entire family of elephants. In all, eleven elephants were gunned down and had their tusks removed. Among the dead was a two-month-old calf. The elephants were killed in Tsavo East National Park.
(12/23/2012) Ivory smuggling surged in 2011, reaching its highest levels in nearly 20 years, says a new report released by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
(12/13/2012) Royal Malaysian Customs have just announced the seizure of 24 tons of ivory in Port Klang. This is the largest-ever seizure of ivory in transit through the country. The 1,500 pieces of ivory came from over 750 elephants and were exported from Togo, a tiny west African country that has fewer than 200 elephants. The ivory was hidden in containers containing wooden crates that were built to look like stacks of sawn timber. The two crates were shipped from the port of Lomé in Togo, and were going to China via Algeria, Spain and Malaysia. Richard Leakey, the former Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), who set Kenya’s ivory stockpile alight in 1989, responded to the announcement.
(12/12/2012) Malaysian authorities made their largest-ever ivory bust after uncovering 24 tons of ‘white gold’ hidden in crates designed to look like stacks of sawn wood.
(12/12/2012) This week the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) announced a 14% decline in elephants in the Samburu/Laikipia ecosystem over the last 4 years. The decline has occurred in a population whose natural growth rate was measured at 5.3% between 2002 and 2008 according to the previous survey, suggesting that over 300 elephants are dying annually in the Samburu and Laikipia’s landscape, denting the poster child image of one of Kenya’s most important wildlife landscapes. Poaching and drought are the main causes of mortality in this population. The impact of poaching on tourism cannot be ignored, heavily armed bandits threaten more than elephants, if we can’t protect elephants how can we protect international tourists? But it’s the long term consequence that are of greater concern.
(11/05/2012) For the past five years, Spanish biologist Luis Arranz has been the director of Garamba National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Arranz and a team of nearly 240 people, 140 guards among them, work to protect a vast area of about 5,000 square kilometers (1,930 square miles) of virgin forest, home to a population of more than 2.300 elephants that are facing a new and more powerful enemy. The guards are encountering not only bigger groups of poachers, but with ever more sophisticated weapons. According to Arranz, armed groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army from Uganda are now killing elephants for their ivory.
(10/22/2012) Hong Kong authorities have confiscated two massive shipments of elephant tusks, totaling 1,209 tusks, stemming from Kenya and Tanzania. Representing over 600 poached elephants, the shipments are estimated to be worth $3.4 million on the black market. African elephants are being decimated for their tusks in recent years with heavily-armed and well-connected poachers—backed by criminal syndicates—killing off whole herds in some cases.