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5 Facts You Need to Know About the Oscar Winning Documentary: The Elephant Whisperers

5 Facts You Need to Know About the Oscar Winning Documentary: The Elephant Whisperers

The Elephant Whisperer Wins Short Film Oscars

“I stand here to speak today about the sacred bond between us and the natural world for the respect of indigenous communities and empathy towards other living beings we share our space with and finally for coexistence. Thank you to the academy for recognising our film, highlighting indigenous people and animals.”

— Kartiki Gonsalves, Director of The Elephant Whispers at the Oscars

The Elephant Whisperers is a captivating Tamil language documentary that tells the heart-warming tale of two extraordinary individuals, Bonna and Bellie and their unbreakable bond with two orphan elephants, Raghu and Ammu.

Set in the stunning landscape of Mudumalai National Park, Tamil Nadu, the short film is an emotional roller-coaster and a must-watch for all those looking for an existential experience.

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Here are some interesting facts about the movie:

The Significance of the Date

The 13th of March is important for India and Thailand for different reasons.

In Thailand, on the 26th of May 1988, the government declared the 13th of March to be celebrated as Thai National Elephant Day, also known as Chang Thai Day.

Meanwhile, on the 13th of March 2023, an Indian film that explores the empathetic bond between two orphan elephants and their caretakers receives one of the most prestigious awards in the international film industry, the Oscars.

National Elephant Day-Thailand

This recognition not only honours the film industry but also brings attention to the importance of elephant conservation and highlights the role of caretakers who dedicate their lives to protecting and caring for these magnificent creatures.

The First to Oscar Win for an Indian Production

Directed by Kartiki Gonsalves and produced by Guneet Monga, The Elephant Whisperers won the Best Documentary Short Film at the 95th Academy Awards beating Haulout, The Martha Mitchell Effect, Stranger At The Gate, and How Do You Measure A Year?

It marks the first-ever Oscar win for an Indian production. However, before this achievement, two documentaries, Fali Bilimoria’s The House That Ananda Built and Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s An Encounter With Faces, had been nominated for the Oscars in 1969 and 1979, respectively.

The Directorial Debut

Kartiki Gonsalves is an Indian natural history and social documentary photojournalist/filmmaker. She had a chance encounter with Raghu, the baby elephant and star of her documentary, which made her rethink her decision to return to her hometown.

The Elephant Whisperers

For her, the Netflix film marks a significant milestone in her professional and personal life, serving as her directorial debut. Gonsalves had previously established herself as a highly accomplished wildlife and social documentary photographer, photojournalist, and cinematographer.

Despite her flourishing career in these fields, she decided to shift her focus and take on the director role for this project, driven by a different cause.

The Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary 

The Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, which provides an incredibly attractive backdrop for the film, is located in the northwestern region of the Nilgiri Hills. It is situated approximately 150 kilometres northwest of Coimbatore city and is part of the Kongu Nadu region of Tamil Nadu.


The Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary is an excellent habitat for numerous endangered and vulnerable species, such as the Indian elephant, Bengal tiger, Gaur, and Indian leopard.

The sanctuary boasts a high level of animal diversity, with 13% of all mammals and 8% of all bird species in India present within it.

The Tribal Community of Tamil Nadu and Kerala

The Kattunayakan community is one of the 75 “Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups” (PTGs) in India and resides in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In Kerala, they are mainly located in Wynad, Kozhikode, and Tamil Nadu districts. They occupy the Gudalur and Pandalur taluk in the Nilgiris.


Historically, the Kattunayakans were known to be hunter-gatherers and were named after their status as forest leaders or chiefs, with ‘kadu’ (forests) and ‘nayakan’ (leader/chief) forming the basis of their name.

Banner Photo Credit: Poster From The Elephant Whisperer

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