elephant king

Scientist Caitlin O’Connell, one of the world’s experts of elephant behaviour, monitors one of Namibia’s worst drought on record at Etosha National Park, where the fate of an extraordinary band of bull elephants hangs in the balance.

programme information


1 x 60'

Production Company

A production of Terra Mater Factual Studios and Aqua Vita Films in association with Smithsonian Channel.






CINE Golden Eagle Awards 2013 (Bethesda, USA): Televised Documentary & Performance Division – Environment & Nature

Episode Information

This is the story of a unique band of African elephants that relies on a waterhole for survival during one of the driest winters on record. Forced into close proximity by thirst, we follow the friendships and fights, bonds and battles that form when drought hits the elephants of Namibia’s Etosha National Park. In particular the bull elephants’ massive leader is missing and battle for his crown is about to begin. Monitoring the action is scientist Caitlin O’Connell. She’s spent the last 20 winters at this waterhole, and her studies into elephant communication, body language and vocalisations have made her one of the world’s leading experts in elephant conduct. Her unique ability to read elephants’ minds has led to some remarkable findings – she was the first person to unearth the method of elephant communication through vibrations in the ground and to prove that elephants actually listen to these vibrations with special sensors in their feet and the tips of their trunks. Now Caitlin’s back, and it’s going to be a challenging season. A year ago a devastating fire swept through Etosha, wiping out entire herds of elephants. Many prominent members of elephant society are missing from Mushara waterhole, among them, presumed dead, is Caitlin’s favourite, the top bull, Greg. With the reigning monarch missing, the post of the Elephant King is up for grabs and this year Caitlin hopes to find out who will rise to the challenge and how the fight for dominance will play out. We follow Caitlin through the dry season as she records the interactions of every elephant that comes to Mushara, day and night.

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