Marie and Ben Moller are the founders of Elephant Sands, which they’ve made bigger and more prominent as the visitors come in more significant numbers. I’m speaking of the elephants, of course.
Poachers have been killing wildlife, especially elephants, for over fifty years. In 2014, Botswana decided to ban hunting. Interestingly, when it became a “Poaching Free” zone, elephants from neighboring areas started migrating to Botswana and to the Moller’s land.
Not just the end of poaching, but the need for water has also driven the elephants onto their property. Elephants can either smell water half a country away or have excellent tusker social media amongst one another in a way that’s impossible for us to understand. Whatever brings them, it’s good for Marie, Ben, their daughter Saskia and her husband Mike Toth for without the elephants, they have no clientele. But with the damage a thirsty elephant can do, success in doing what they love has become a tricky line to walk. They’re very fond of the elephants, but giving both them and their guests what they need is challenging. Luckily, they’ve always managed even though 60% of elephants now live and drink from Elephants Sands.
They drink from the pool, destroy windows to get to the bathrooms’ faucets and toilets, and, sadly, do what they must if they don’t get to the good stuff by drinking sewage water. Due to climate change, there aren’t many other options anymore. While watching these beautiful animals suffer, which wasn’t easy, you can’t help but wonder when it’s our turn to fight over this precious resource. Like us, elephants feel sadness, love, grief, compassion and joy. I’ll never be convinced they don’t understand their time is running short. They seem desperate to get to a life-sustaining sip of water, but not to the point of aggression; they take what they can get and are happy for it.
The hardest part of the film to watch is when these beauties are forced to stand silently by and watch as humans gleefully swim in a pool. The pool, filled with what their lack of is their death sentence. Possibly out of spite and carefully edited, it’s after they see this that they drink most of the water out of the pool and relieve themselves in it. Swim in that, people!
The Moller’s have dogs that help herd their thirsty friends. A tiny Yorkie named Pieter, who thinks he’s the size of his charges, makes an excellent guard dog when it’s his watch. Some of the pachyderms have been named. This aids you in understanding the plight of the mammoths… and to feel much more than you may have.
Mary has two calves who aren’t always appreciated by the bulls at the watering hole. That storyline is heartbreaking.
Benny is injured and due to rules set by the Department of Wildlife, they aren’t allowed to help him. Nature has to run its course. At one point, Benny shows that he trusts Marie and Ben in a way elephants never do, so they step in and do what they can to get him some care.
There are a few difficult scenes to get beyond. Still, for the most part, this truly is a must-see for anyone who cares about this planet and its life forms. You’ll see some gorgeous cinematography during this documentary and witness these people put everything on the line for something other than themselves. They’re willing to barely stay afloat to ensure an elephant lives another day.
I won’t lie, this is a tough watch, but watch is what you must do. At this rate, elephants will be gone in a decade. As it’s suggested in the film, we can save them if we try hard enough. Elephants are beautiful, remarkable beings. We have to want this enough! I hope we do but fear we don’t. See what Botswana has done since 2019 for the reason I feel this way.
Directed by: Louise Hogarth
Written by: Louise Hogarth, Lynn Webb
Starring: Jerome Flynn
Run Time: 1h 22m
“Elephant Refugees” releases on Digital November 18.