I first heard the calls of forest elephants in a small windowless recording studio in the offices of the Elephant Listening Project at Cornell University. Sitting beside me was renowned elephant behavioral biologist Andrea Turkalo of the Wildlife Conservation Society. The room was filled with the night sounds of the Central African Rainforest. Across a thick fog of insects and frogs floated the plaintive calls of Forest Elephants. There were roars and trumpets, long pulsing rumbles, and screeches (which I later learned belonged to infants calling for their mothers).
Andrea had recently arrived in Ithaca to help her collaborators decode these calls. Andrea’s descriptions of the rainforest, the indigenous people she has worked along side, and the peril the elephants were facing set a path for me that I would follow for the next 4 years. Along the way I would travel with security contractors, go on patrol with eco-guards, and spend extended time in the forest with the Bayaka people, who were avoiding the civil conflict unfolding across the country. Sessely Bernard, a Bayaka elder, had worked with Andrea for 23 years. It was Sessely and his extended family that truly gave me this remarkable unfolding story. I am honored to have been invited into this world.
There are common elements in every contemporary extinction story: unchecked market forces, corruption, greed, overexploitation, and habitat loss. A more optimistic commonality between these tragic histories is the presence of a dedicated and inspiring group of thoughtful and forward looking people sounding the alarm of impending loss. It is my hope that the efforts of these people will be fortified by this film. Elephant Path / Njaia Njoku is their story.