Secrets of the Elephants, a fascinating doc series

An Asian elephant swims in a river in Secrets of the Elephants

Secrets of the Elephants is a National Geographic series. Four episodes examine the lives and culture of elephants living in the savanna, the rain forest, the desert, and Asia.

Secrets of the Elephants, like anything National Geographic does, is beautifully photographed. Gorgeous shots, intimate closeups, and overhead views abound.

There’s a woman’s touch to the series. Natalie Portman narrates. The scientists who are studying the elephants and telling us their secrets are women: Paula Kahumbu and Joyce Poole. Fleur Bone directs.

Secrets of the Elephants poster shows savanna elephants with a mother and daughter in the grass.

There’s a lot here I hadn’t known before. Elephants in different physical environments have different ways of coping, a different culture (yes, elephants have culture), and different habits. They are so smart (they have the biggest brains of any land mammal) and are so inventive – it’s awe inspiring.

Elephant populations are declining rapidly because of poaching and habitat loss. The series makes a point without being preachy to help you understand why elephants are a crucial element in the ecosystem that keeps the earth healthy.

An elephant in the rain forest in Secrets of the Elephants

The communal life of female elephants is explained, as well as the lonely life of the bulls. They have a language that scientists have translated, a matriarchal system of leadership, and strong relationship ties. One female who lost all her family to poachers made herself the matriarch of a herd of buffalo and led them around like elephants.

They use tools to get across electric fences guarding fruit. They stop farm trucks on the highway to eat sugar cane on its way to processing. They circle newborns with all the aunties and cousins standing guard until the little one can walk with them.

With 40,000 muscles in their trunks, elephants can do just about anything with that trunk, including rub their eyes, love on their children, and say hello to their families. One little guy, who lost most of his trunk to some hyenas, was fed by the other family members who brought him leaves and twigs to munch.

You can see this excellent documentary series on Disney+ or Hulu. It can be rented on Prime Video, YouTube and other places.

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