One Lucky Elephant
This heartfelt, mostly engaging documentary focuses on the consequences of moving a teenaged circus elephant, Flora, to a sanctuary where she interacts with other elephants for the first in sixteen years. Flora was born in 1982 in Zimbabwe and, upon losing her family, she was relocated to the United States where circus owner David Balding eventually adopted, trained and cared for her as if she were his very own child. Now that Flora is 18, she no longer seems happy to perform in the circus, so, given the fact that she will outlive him, he must find a place for her to be truly happy especially once she outlives him. He thinks she’ll be happiest in the wild of Botswana back in Africa. The task to find her a new home becomes much more easily said than done, though, when political turmoil rules out the chance of Flora going to Africa. At a Miami zoo, Flora injures a zookeeper, and, later she shows more signs of aggression at a Tennessee sanctuary co-founded by Carol Buckley.
Director Lisa Leeman interviews David Balding, his wife and Carol Buckley, and while there’s no surprising insights or revelations, it’s still interesting to observe the dynamics of the relationship between David and Flora. The footage of he and Flora interacting is quite amusing and even poignant because, in many ways, Flora becomes anthropomorphized---she’s smart, cunning and lovable. Now that she’s exhibiting aggressive behavior at the sanctuary, does she merely have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or is her behavior merely a belated reaction to the tough discipline that David Balding had used on her as she grew up? Either way, there’s no denying that David loves like his own child, and that she loves him back. When Carol doesn’t allow him to visit Flora at her sanctuary, you might initially feel angry, saddened and disappointed much like David, but upon closer examination, you might realize that what’s best for Flora is to get used to interacting with other elephants even if it’s a gradual adjustment. At a running time of just 1 hour and 24 minutes, One Lucky Elephant is an often captivating documentary that will tug at your heartstrings, especially if you’re an animal lover.