The poaching of wild African elephants for their valuable ivory tusks is memorably examined in "Gardeners of Eden," a compelling documentary that's short on running time but long on emotion.
The film, directed and shot by Austin Peck and Anneliese Vandenberg (Peck also edited), isn't especially well organized. But it offers an intimate look at these majestic creatures that face extinction because of the worldwide demand for and illegal trafficking of ivory products.
The result, the filmmakers posit, is an unfolding ecological disaster with potentially far-reaching consequences. Not the least of these is the loss of other animals such as zebras and impalas that depend on the habitat-clearing work of elephants — dubbed "the gardeners of Eden" — for their survival.
Much of the movie follows the labors of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a conservation charity based in Nairobi, Kenya, to raise and rehabilitate the baby elephants orphaned by poachers. The goal: to have these traumatized animals one day walk freely back into the wild. The trust's restorative efforts, headed by Sheldrick's widow, Daphne, are nothing short of heroic.
Peck and Vandenberg's cameras vividly capture life in Kenya's stunning Tsavo national parkland, where elephant poaching remains chronic. We follow along as wildlife service officers locate slain elephants, rescue their offspring, track poachers and attempt to crack down on "bush warfare." It's fascinating, occasionally gruesome stuff.
Enlightening interviews with staffers at the Sheldrick trust and the national park, as well as with a poacher fighting for his own survival, are peppered in. Also appearing is actress and activist Kristin Davis ("Sex and the City"), who helped produce this vivid and powerful film.
"Gardeners of Eden"
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes. In English and Swahili with subtitles.
Playing: At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.