Daniel Nelson

"Over 100,000 elephants and rhinos were killed in the course of making this film," proclaims

The Last Animals

The Last Animals

Image by The Last Animals

The Last Aninmals as the credits roll.

It's a parting shot from war photographer Kate Brooks who has turned her camera on a different sort of conflict - the battle against the poaching-to-extinction of rhinos and elephants.

The documentary is an unashamedly partisan cry from the heart, "I am now using my camera to document the ivory trade and capture the last of the species", and it's powerfully effective.

The heroes are the African game wardens on the ground, often outgunned by the poachers, and the activists and scientists using modern techniques to curb the illegal trade. 

The baddies are not really the frequently bewildered poachers, the equivalent of the foot-slogging infantry who are hardly aware of the wider consequence of their actions: the real villains are the ruthless Mr Bigs of the ivory trade, who make large profits and are often also involved in narcotics and people-smuggling, and the corrupt officials and politicians who smooth their paths - and take a big cut: "You can't move this amount of of ivory over and over without the powers-that-be allowing this to happen. It's corruption." And let's not forget the consumers, with whom the film opens, buying what they hope will be prestige, health and virility.

Even respectable organisations such as CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) get a blast, with Brooks' charge that it's more about trade than conservation, and that it's two "one-off" authorisations of ivory sales triggered a poaching explosion.

"Entertaining" seems an inappropriate word to use for  film tackling such a grim scenario: perhaps "watchable" will have to do. Brooks keeps the story moving, taking in ivory shops, science labs, game parks, conferences, and with gripping and touching images, whether a baby rhino brushing up against human legs, overhead shots of elephant herds, burning ivory pyres or poacher-ranger shootouts ("Being on patrol with rangers in Garamba [National Park] can be just as dangerous as being on a patrol with a military unit in Afghanistan and that is one of the reasons I went there – I wanted to document the front lines of this ivory war and put the human sacrifice into focus", Brooks said in an interview with Mongabay).

In tbhe same intereview, Brooks says that what sets this documentary apart from many wildlife docs "is that the film is more focused on the human beings than the animals themselves."

That's partly true, though there's little of what ordinary Kenyans or Congolese feel about the threat to wildlife or how it stands alongside, say, Europe's elimination of its own wildlife or the bison decimation in the US. In that context, there's nothing unique about what's going on now.

Nevertheless, the film is a red alert about dire events that may be stoppable. After seeing it, no-one can say they haven't been warned and that we might be on the way towards the dreadful double-meaning of the title.

* The Last Animals is showing as part of the LUSH Film Festival, 30 November- 1 December.

blog comments powered by Disqus