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Natural World

  • Season 32
  • 10 episodes
  • Nature

Episode 4: Sri Lanka: Elephant Island


Wildlife cameraman Martyn Colbeck travels to the diverse island of Sri Lanka to study its elephants, a subspecies of the Asian genus that have their own unique characteristics. Drawing on local knowledge, he begins to unravel the complex social world of the creatures and takes an interest in an orphaned animal that lost a leg in a snare and faces an uncertain future.


A star rating of 3 out of 5.

Relationships matter to Sri Lankan elephants. As this documentary shows, they’re social, up-close, touch-feely creatures. But if there are no fellow elephants around for them to bond with, they’ll take happily to human company – too happily in some cases, making it hard for orphans to return to the wild.

The most memorable character in the film is an orphan called Namal, a youngster with a prosthetic leg like a strap-on umbrella stand. Watching him muck about with his keeper in a pond, then dry himself by flicking a towel over his shoulder, is marvellous. In another striking scene, an elephant mother with a day-old calf clashes with a bigger female, who proceeds to steal her calf, and then tries to suckle it, despite having no milk of her own.

It’s a reminder that not much is known about Sri Lankan elephants’ wild behaviour, compared with their African cousins. They do have one unique accomplishment: when they eat clumps of grass they’ve learnt to swipe them against their feet to beat off the earth – good elephant table manners.

How to watch

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PresenterMartyn Colbeck


DirectorMike Birkhead
Executive producerChris Cole
ProducerMike Birkhead
Series producerRoger Webb

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