It’s tough out there for Babar.
In the new documentary “Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story,” out Friday, American filmmaker Ashley Bell flies to Cambodia to discover the scary plight of Asian elephants, some of the largest animals on Earth, who are plagued by poachers and exploited in logging camps.
“A close family friend owns the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary, and I heard through them they’d been looking for elephants to rescue for about 10 years,” Bell tells The Post. “When I heard they finally had rescued them and were releasing them onto the sanctuary, it just hit me to my core. And I said ‘I’ve gotta go.’ ”
The rescue in the film takes place in Cambodia, where the team — including renowned elephant expert Lek Chailert — attempt to save a 70-year-old animal named Noi Na.
Captive elephants like Noi Na are forced to endure a little-known torture called “The Crush Box,” in which humans beat them into submission for days. Noi Na’s experience left her partially blind.
Chailert’s methods for rehabilitating hurt elephants are tender and maternal, and many of the animals look to her as a mom. Bell, at first, had doubts.
“[Chailert] treats them like humans. She treats them with dignity and respect, and she gives them love. I’m a pretty skeptical person, so I was like, ‘Sure, Lek,’ ” Bell says. “But I saw it with my own eyes. To see the change in Noi Na’s behavior as soon as the chains are taken off and she’s made to feel comfortable in Lek’s sanctuary. She immediately began eating, rubbing up against walls, covering herself with dirt and scratching her butt.” All good signs.
Although it can be hard to witness the suffering of captive elephants, at the sanctuary, Bell says, there was plenty of cuteness overload.
“There are some baby elephants in the park. To see them wake up and just rush — because they’ve got these rolls — to rush and jiggle, and flinging themselves onto a mud pit,” she says, “was quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
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