Petersburg filmmaker Kelly Bakos will be in Wrangell to show her documentary that depicts the effects of elephant poaching. The film is called a heard of orphans and is set at a baby elephant sanctuary in Zambia. KSTK’s June Leffler spoke to Bakos about his film.  

When poachers kill adult elephants for their ivory, the young calves that are left behind are orphaned, homeless and unable to survive without the care of a herd. Those who are lucky to be saved are raised in a surrogate herd made up entirely of orphans.

The 90-minute film has been screening at film festivals across the globe and reached audiences as far as Estonia, Finland, Malaysia and China. Bakos attended several of the festivals over the past year and has brought home a number of awards which recognize the film’s conservation and awareness-raising message.

The elephant orphanage featured in the film is operated by Game Rangers International, a nonprofit organization which has rescued dozens of orphaned calves and is currently raising 18 elephants for eventual release back into the wild. It takes an extraordinary amount of resources. Each elephant costs roughly $35,000 per year. Calves need milk, veterinary care, a team of surrogate parents to raise them, and special training to teach them the skills they would have acquired from their natural herds. 

“That’s a lot of overhead cost,” says Bakos. “And to think that these elephants come to the orphanage at a young age—sometimes when they are just a few months old—and they stay with the project until they are old enough to live on their own in the wild. That’s in excess of 10 or 12 years of care.”

“But raising elephants isn’t enough. The whole effort would be in vain without a safe place to release them that is free of poaching and human conflicts,” she explains. “That’s why Game Rangers International’s holistic approach to conservation is so important, and why their boots-on-the-ground efforts are crucial.”

Bakos acknowledges this important work, but she focused the film on the story she thinks will make the greatest impact. “I think if we can reach people on an emotional level and create empathy for the elephants, then buyers may think twice about purchasing an ivory product.”

The public screening of “A Herd of Orphans” is sponsored by the Nolan Center and starts at 6pm on Tuesday, March 26th at the Nolan Center. Admission is free. Bakos will be in attendance, and she will be accepting donations and selling film swag as a fundraiser for Game Rangers International’s elephant orphanage and anti-poaching efforts.