For African elephants, survival depends on successful migration to and from their ancestral feeding grounds each year. They must constantly follow the rhythms of the seasons, treading the millennia-old paths to reliable sources of food and water—and away from dangerous predators. During the dry season of late summer and autumn, elephants must risk the journey toward water and the promise of continued survival for the herd.
Crisscrossing the continent from watering hole to watering hole, the herd can only survive if its leader remembers the exact location of each crucial pit stop. This responsibility falls to the matriarch of each elephant herd: the eldest female has a long memory, coupled with a lifetime of honing her instinctual awareness of the landscape around her.
On the way to their ancient feeding grounds, in the Flooded Swamp oasis of the Kalahari Desert, each herd of elephants must face a series of tests. We follow one herd led by their matriarch, Mensa, out of the Chobe National Park in northeast Botswana on their way to the feeding grounds of the Okavango River delta. On their journey, they must face prides of roaming lions, hungry crocodiles, scorching heat, and the looming threats of dehydration and starvation—and, above all, they must not get lost.
Straying from the herd, even for a moment, spells disaster for any elephant. Young calves and even adults can easily be separated from the group out on the open plains. However, once lost and disoriented, these unlucky elephants have a hard time finding the herd again and make easy prey for nearby lions.
But as dangerous as this journey is, these elephants have no choice but to take the risk. Experience their desert crossing this Sunday with Elephant Queen at 9/8c, only on Nat Geo WILD. Need more time in the world of elephants? Join us an hour early to get an inside look at the shadowy world of ivory poaching and trade on Warlords of Ivory beginning at 8/7c on National Geographic Channel.