December 2004




December  2004 


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Mike Pandey…Documenting the horrific plight of the captured elephant

He was, until recently, the only Asian to have won the coveted Green Oscar twice. Now Mike Pandey has made wildlife film history by winning the award for a record third time for his new documentary Vanishing Giants.

The Delhi-based noted wildlife filmmaker Mike Pandey recently added another Panda Award, popularly known as the Green Oscar, to his growing list of honours for his latest documentary, Vanishing Giants. "The Award is incidental. The idea of the film is to awaken people to the horrific plight of a captured elephant," says he.

The disturbing documentary depicting the cruel and inhuman treatment meted out to an imprisoned elephant leading to his eventual death has earned Pandey the covetous award for the third time.

Pandey was the first Asian to have won the award in 1994 for his film The Last Migration - Wild Elephant Capture in Sarguja. He annexed it the second time in 2000 for the documentary Shores of Silence-Whale Sharks in India.

This year, vying with global giants like BBC, Discovery, and Granada, he won his third Panda Award when his documentary. Vanishing Giants was adjudged winner at the Wildscreen 2004 Festival in England.

"In India, the elephant is a revered in the form of Lord Ganesha. But in our selfish need for land and skyscrapers, we are robbing this adored lord of the jungle of his natural habitat. Not a single voice is raised to protect the poor beast," says Pandey.

The filmmaker recalls witnessing the shocking predicament of a 25-year-old elephant that was brutally assaulted in custody till it developed severe gangrene and septicaemia. On enquiring why the elephant was not administered medicine, Pandey was met with a stoic, "Such animals always die in captivity. It is tradition."

Senseless Slaughter

Dismayed by the senseless slaughter of these innocent creatures in the name of regressive tradition, Pandey decided to make a film to gather public support to help the elephant retain his rightful home.

Vanishing Giants…Chained elephant being beaten to death.

As he and his crew filmed in the area and met the locals, the magnitude of the problem became clear. When humans encroach forestland for habitation these elephants have no choice but to wander into fields in search of food. In the process they trample upon crops, homes and sometimes - even people. Which is why villagers get together to capture elephants and kill them.

According to Pandey, anything that is so huge has limited numbers. Creatures such as elephants, tigers and whale sharks don't breed like roaches - that’s why there are so few of them left in the world.

Says the filmmaker Pandey, "The village folk obviously do not understand the damage they are causing to conservation. The large-scale killings have, over the years, seriously disrupted the continuity of the species because of the slow regeneration process. The male-female ratio is suffering greatly. It has fallen from the acceptable three males to five females to an alarming one male to 500 females. As a result the gene pool has become recessive."

Pandey, who was born in Kenya and spent a good part of his childhood in the National Park near his house, says the elephant is being targeted for none of its wrong-doings. It is the lust of the people who rob the elephant of his natural habitat – the forests. His impassioned plea to save the Asian elephant is fuelled with bitter antagonism at men who turn a blind eye towards the ecological balance on Earth.

"We need these animals so as not to upset the food chain. Man is a small part of the intricate web of living beings – just a small strand. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself," he says.

Vanishing Giants is Pandey’s heartfelt appeal for the setting up of an Asian elephant sanctuary to protect the vulnerable species. In all his documentaries he has been driven by his need to share and pass on his experiences and knowledge to his viewers.

"I have been making documentaries for twenty-eight years. I try and tackle a new subject and bring out a new aspect of life every time. My films are basically educational and they sensitise people and make a difference by sharing information," says Pandey.

He adds that he tries to be as non-judgemental as possible and makes a film without any prejudices. Which is why Vanishing Giants looks into the problem from both the beasts’ and the villagers’ point of view. "It is a documented reality and I hope it touches the heart and mind. Its aim is to awaken people and make them think whether what they are doing is right or wrong."

He warns, "We are seriously interfering with nature's delicate balance. We have ruptured the system and if it continues, we may pay the price with our own extinction."



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