Matt and Cow Lady

PBS has an interesting show, via the BBC, about elephants migrating to a reserve for a few weeks. One plot line is about a 45-year-old bull and his struggle to find a female in estrus.

Cameraman Bob Poole follows, Matt, one of the largest, oldest tuskers in Kenya to see how a big bull in his prime goes about finding a mate and deals with the challenges from young bulls. Can he find a mate before the elephants begin to disperse in just 3 weeks’ time?

He can, of course, because if he hadn’t been able to, they wouldn’t have chosen him for the episode, but it’s still interesting to watch. When one cow finally does come into estrus seven young bulls follow her around before “Matt” arrives on the scene. Will he get her away from them? Will he triumph over this enterprising younger bull who has just mounted her? He will! He will charge roaring at young bull and shove him off just in time! And the winner is!

So he does mount her and there’s a surprisingly sweet post-coital interlude in which the rest of the herd (cows and calves) crowd around and “Matt” sticks around too and they all seem pleased as punch.

But the voiceover narration is odd at this point, because the male narrator goes on and on about how “Matt” will have his genes carried on in the next generation and what a good thing that is.

There’s not a word about the female’s genes, nor is she given a name.

It’s partly just the storytelling convention: the people who made the show decided to make a narrative out of “Matt” and his quest, while the cow has not been part of the story until the last minute. There’s a second (hideously sad) narrative about a herd of orphans (orphaned by poaching) whose too-young matriarch is the named central figure…as is her male calf. But this is supposed to be a nature program, even with the storytelling conventions for the mass audience. It seems both silly and uneducational to leave viewers with the impression that Matt alone is sending his genes to a new generation. Matt got his share of the job done in about ten seconds; the cow will be doing hers for 22 months and then for many years unless she is killed by poachers, which she probably will be.

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