Part X.B - the second part of the Milottes in Africa.

This week we talk some more about Alfred & Elma Milotte's three year odyssey in Africa for the Disney Studios.

The Milotte Wildlife Film Festival slated for Saturday, October 20th, between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm will show three Oscar Award winners for both the Milotte’s and the Disney Studios, they are “Seal Island”, “Bear Country” and “Beaver Valley”.

The following, based on notes and documents reviewed during inventory and catalog work on the Milotte Colletcion, has been provided by GBLHS member and author of “Bonney Lake’s Plateau”, Winona Jacobsen:

Africa Part X.B

It took a few days to get Annie (‘Ann Lorry’ their heavily modified Dodge truck, film studio, home)  through the scrutiny of the customs officials. She was loaded with cameras, lenses, film, and the necessities for camping. Once the inspections were completed and the duties paid, Alfred and Elma were off to begin filming and to fulfill a dream of making the best wildlife film ever. Their adventures would be many, fraught with dangerous animals, civil strife, car troubles, and film problems.

Alfred and Elma were committed to capturing the animals of Africa in their natural habitat. Although the team achieved world renown for their work, Alfred maintained that the art of filming animals in the wild was not the physical act of shooting the photo, but the art of anticipating what an animal might do and when. Then the photographer must be ready to press the button on the camera to save the image for all posterity. The Milottes would follow the migrating herds through the wet and the dry seasons, observing the life cycles and recording the events.

A platform in the trees was built near a watering hole in order to film the herds of elephants that would gather. Alfred and Elma discovered that these giants had personalities and were playful, too, but they had the ability to do damage to Ann Lorry or bring down the tree holding the filming platform. Elma was on the platform alone when the herd moved directly under it. The big bull elephant was so close that she could have reached out and touched him, but dared not in case he would become enraged and push the tree over, so she remained very quiet while Alfred observed from a distance until the herd moved away.

While on the Serengeti Alfred saw a baby zebra wandering alone. Nearby was a pride of lions dozing in the high grass. Alfred knew that at least one of those lions would be hungry, and that this would be an obviously easy kill. He had left Elma in camp that day, so he had set up two cameras to record any action that he might find. Anticipating a kill, Al started filming with the first camera, but it started buzzing loudly. He quickly grabbed his high speed camera and pointed in the direction of the action. The lions were quick to complete their kill of the zebra, and to his dismay, Al realized he had forgotten to press the camera button to start filming, so the scene was lost.                       

It was hard sometimes to remain neutral when the forces of nature were at work. One day he was driving by a watering hole and spotted a lone rhinoceros mired in the mud. The more the animal struggled, the deeper it sank. The animal was surely going to die if something wasn’t done. Al was able to walk around the rhino with ropes that were attached to the truck. He then slowly backed his truck up and pulled the rhino from the muck. The huge beast showed his gratitude by charging his benefactor! Al had to run for cover in the truck.

At beautiful Mzima Springs, hippopotamuses were found in large numbers, but in order to answer some of the questions about their habits and actions beneath the surface, Alfred built a tank that could hold him and his camera equipment and could be lowered into the water. He was able to capture the grace with which these ungainly  creatures moved through the water. A decade later, Elma would write a book, The Story of a Hippopotamus, based on their observations.

During their wandering and exploration of Africa, Alfred Milotte used his pistol once to shoot an animal. It was a mercy killing of a gazelle that was being eaten alive by a number of vultures. The pistol was something that Alfred disliked, but when he was driving around Kenya, he kept it loaded, on the floor near his feet. It was in 1952 that what became known as the Mau Mau uprising began. It was the native resistance to the oppressive rule of the British colonials. Elma wrote of the injustice that the natives suffered and expressed horror at the atrocities that were committed on both sides. She reported hearing gunshots one night, but neither she nor Alfred were ever threatened although she remained somewhat nervous in some areas of the country.

Ann Lorry sometimes allowed the Milottes to get within arm’s reach of the wild animals in Africa. Although the elephants and zebras, among others, may run at the sight of a human being, they were far more approachable from an enclosed vehicle. Alfred and Elma could stay for days at a time inside Annie and observe behaviors not witnessed by most of the white hunters of Africa. This close proximity to the animals made them “experts”, and they were able to clear up some misconceptions about natural behavior. Neither Al nor Elma were zoologists, but their powers of observation and recording what they witnessed earned them worldwide respect and accolades.

Of the more than 28 miles of film that they shot during their thirty-three months in Africa, only about 3200 feet were used in the Disney film Lion Country.  Walt Disney wanted footage that could be archived and used for other film projects, and he got over 150,000 feet to work with. Not only was some of it used in other motion pictures, but some of the images were the inspiration for the animated scenes that Walt used in Adventure Land at his new theme park in California, aptly named Disneyland.


Next up will be Australia.

In closing I’d like to remind everyone that the Greater Bonney Lake Historical Society (GBLHS) is a nonprofit 501 (c) 3, our next meeting is the last Monday of the month and is slated for September 24th at 7:00 PM in the meeting room at the Bonney Lake Library. We are always open to the public and welcome new members.

Don’t forget to check out www.mwlff.org and look for the trivia questions. There are five of them and if you’re the first to answer any of them you can win a 2013 GBLHS – Milotte themed calendar.

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