This is our Wildlife Conservation Blog & Call to Action dialog.
“Walking Thunder” can feel like a family trip around the continent of Africa — if your parents were award-winning photographers and explorers. The mesmerizing film about the African elephant by husband-and-wife team Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson basks in wide-open landscapes, intimate conversations with Africa’s indigenous herders and hunters, and haunting, close-up stares from the largest living land animal on Earth.
But the film is really about Lysander, Christo and Wilkinson’s son, and we see much of the story through his eyes. He’s our guide as the family learns of the complex relationship that the Samburu, the Maasai and the Waliangulu peoples of East Africa have with the elephant. Even early on — the film draws from more than a decade and a half of footage — just as Lysander is beginning to walk and talk, his insatiable curiosity about elephants shifts the perspective that one might expect from a documentary on African wildlife.
We soon discover with Lysander the dangers that elephants everywhere face, and he and his parents wrestle with the prospect of losing them forever. Even as governments around the world take strides toward ending the ivory trade, as China and the United Kingdom have done, poaching to supply tusks mostly to Asian markets continues. Some 20,000 elephants fall to poachers’ weapons each year, according to WWF, and that’s just in Africa. The crisis has spilled beyond its shores, with illegal hunting of even the world’s smallest elephants in Borneo. And recent evidence confirms that poachers are also going after Asian elephants for their skins, likely for food and medicine markets in China.
As only a child can, Lysander boils down a complex problem with many front lines to a simple solution: Stop killing elephants. “People hunt to decorate their houses. It’s not important to decorate your house,” he says at the age of 6. “The important thing is to live.”
Mongabay caught up with Cyril Christo from his home in the southwestern United States to talk about “Walking Thunder” and the issues it deals with.