Speed Reads

once in a lifetime

Filmmaker captures extraordinary footage of a desert elephant's birth

While setting up his camera to film a herd of elephants, Bob Poole heard the animals begin to make loud noises, and knew the moment he was waiting for had arrived.

The Emmy Award-winning cinematographer was in Namibia, filming for National Geographic's new series, Secrets of the Elephants, premiering April 21. "I just jumped to my camera and started rolling," Poole told The Week. "All I saw were these legs, and I zoomed right into the middle of the action. It was just a pile of legs, and then they kind of separated and revealed this blob of soaking wet dark flesh." He was stunned, adding, "It was one of those things you just can't believe it's actually happening."

Poole has been filming wildlife for more than four decades, but this was a first — in his experience, it's rare for an elephant to give birth at night, and few people have witnessed the event. "It was extraordinary," he said.

Leading up to the birth, Poole and his team spent about a month following the herd. It takes time to track elephants, and they were lucky to have found this "lovely" group with a pregnant female, Poole said. Secrets of the Elephants dives into how the animals work as individuals, families, and herds, and gives insight into their different dynamics.

"They are so much like us, you get the sense they have an understanding of who they are individually and how they fit in their family and how important their families are to them," Poole said. "Not just their babies, but their relatives. They mourn the death of their relatives and seek out favorite playmates. They have friends. They are so much like us all the way around. It's very special in so many ways and anybody who spends time with them gets to feel that and see it very quickly."