Filmed in the Central African rainforest against the backdrop of a violent civil conflict, Rue des Elephants captures two critical years in the lives of one of the last wild herds of Forest Elephants. When 26 elephants are killed by rebels determined to turn ivory into weapons of war, American biologist Andrea Turkalo, Bayaka tracker Sessely Bernard, Bantu eco-guard Zephirine Mbele and Israeli security contactor Nir Kalron face dramatically different futures bound by the realities of affluence, nationality, poverty and race.


Rue des Elephants presents four dramatically different perspectives on the civil war and poaching crisis that threaten the last wild herd of Forest Elephants.


Chara_SeselyBayaka tracker Sessely Bernard is the primary voice of the film. The Bayaka are the often-marginalized, indigenous people of the Central African rainforest.


Chara_AndreaAndrea Turkalo, who has been studying the Forest Elephants of Dzanga Bai for the past 23 years, brings a field biologist’s perspective to the lives of the elephants.


As an eco-guard, Zephirine Mbele is on the front lines of the anti-poaching efforts and stands directly between the elephants and the rebel soldiers intent on profiting from the illegal ivory trade.


Chara_NirIsraeli Nir Kalron works in the secret world of private security contracting. His work with the World Wildlife Fund underscores the dire circumstances that the elephants face.


Dzanga Bai

Dzanga Bai, Bayanga Region, Central African Republic.

A “Bai” is a clearing in the rainforest. Dzanga Bai is unique for its large population of Forest Elephants. Between 60 and 100 elephants visit the clearing each day. Much of what we know about the social structure of Forest Elephants comes from observations of interactions at the Dzanga forest clearing.

The Central African Republic is a land-locked country bordering Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and Cameroon. It is the poorest country in Africa and one of the least developed. A coup d’état in 2012 has left the county in an entrenched and violent civil conflict.


Forest Elephants, a vanishing species

Forest Elephants are the least well known of the three species of elephants (Asian Elephant, Savannah elephants, Forest Elephants).

Found in Central and West Africa, Forest Elephants now number fewer than 100,000, down from about one million when Europeans first ventured into Central Africa.

The Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) is morphologically distinct from the Savannah Elephant (Loxodonta africana) – smaller in size, smaller more rounded ears, and straighter, thinner, denser tusks.

Much Forest Elephant habitat lies within countries with a history of civil unrest and poverty, both of which increase the incentive for poaching.

Forest Elephants are difficult to census due to their dense habitat, and poaching activity is harder to detect for the same reason. The greatest challenge to Forest Elephants today is illegal killing to feed the ivory trade. As enforcement strengthens elsewhere in Africa, poachers will increasingly target Forest Elephant populations.



Key Project Staff


Producer/Director/Editor Todd McGrain
Todd McGrain turned his attention to documentary film after a 25-year career as a sculptor. His accomplishments as a sculptor include the prestigious Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship and the Audubon Award for Art Inspiring Conservation. His sculptures are part of several major museum collections in the United States and abroad. In 2010, McGrain’s work to create permanent public memorials to birds driven to extinction in modern times became the subject of a documentary film, The Lost Bird Project, produced by Middlemarch Films. This rewarding experience led McGrain to his current focus on the plight of the Forest Elephants of Central Africa. Though Rue des Elephants is McGrain’s first feature length documentary, his understanding of the value of storytelling to raise awareness of our current extinction crisis has been formed over decades of dedication and commitment.





Producer/Cinematographer Scott Anger 
Scott Anger is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and independent journalist. In 2014, he won an Emmy Award for the film, Hunger in the Valley of Plenty, which explores food insecurity in central California. Anger’s credits include a number of films for the acclaimed documentary program FRONTLINE (PBS) about ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia. Two of the films have been awarded the Alfred I. duPont Award for Excellence in Journalism from Columbia University, television’s highest journalism award. Anger was the co-producer and cinematographer for The Lost Bird Project, a film directed by Deborah Dickson and produced by Middlemarch Films, about sculptor Todd McGrain.




Executive Producer Dr. Andrew Stern
Andy Stern is an Associate Professor of Neurology at The University of Rochester but now devotes himself fully to raising awareness about the environment through activities of The Lost Bird Project.






Editor Sara Khaki
Sara Khaki is an emerging independent documentary filmmaker and editor with a passion for telling untold stories that matter in our lives. She graduated from the University of Maryland Baltimore County with a BFA in Film/Video, and the School of Visual Arts with a MFA in Social Documentary Film. From the strength of her thesis film Facing The Mirror, Sara was named the SVA Social Documentary and an Alumni Scholarship award recipient. Sara was born and raised in Tehran, Iran, and she currently resides in New York City.