I have watched this documentary twice, the first time to take in its scope, the second to understand what lies in the future for African elephants. Each time I am left asking: can the trafficking be stopped?
Although a seemingly impossible task, the filmmakers show how dedicated, uncorrupt agents from Kenya and Tanzania collaborate with Intelligence sources in Zimbabwe and Mozambique to bring down the poaching kingpins such as Shatani—the devil, who was known to deliver up to 3,000Kg of ivory in a single delivery. These countries are taking responsibility and acting to save the elephants. Elisifa Ngowi, Head of Intelligence, The Task Force, Tanzania, states that, “anti-poaching is also saving our country from terrorists”. The message is clear.
However, East African communities bear a heavy burden. They must temper their rage when elephants destroy their crops, they must resist the money–it’s not easy money–offered by poaching strongmen who offer them 3% of what the they sell the ivory for, and they must refrain from serving war lords that are motivated by greed. Can they be blamed if the local government is slow in implementing electrified fencing? It takes money.
And raising money is what Ian Craig of the Northern Rangeland Trust, does. An ambassador for the species, he helps to raise serious funds for elephants, and states that there is no chance of winning this war. “We simply don’t have enough resources, enough men,” he states, “We need a political solution” As he says, we must kill the demand.
The filmmaking of Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani is superb. Although the beautifully photographed footage of live and slaughtered elephants is not exploitive, and the undercover scenes are obviously dangerous and authentic, the truly compelling part of this doc is the conviction and bravery shown by the men and women who are determined to put a stop to this insanity. Hongxiang Huang, the Chinese activist investigator, motivated to redeem his country’s infamous disregard for wildlife puts his life in danger. Craig Miller, Head of Security of the Big Life Foundation in Kenya who risks his life in the bush, states, “How have we got to this stage, as a human race when we lay waste to everything we value, everything we see…” Andrea Crosta, Founder of WildLeaks, whose operations take him and his investigators into extremely dangerous operations is another unsung hero of the battle for elephants (and rhinos).
Yet, despite these efforts the demand for ivory persists. Everyone involved will admit that they don’t know how this can be stopped. The fact that a store is selling a decorated tusk for over $300,000 is testament to the irrational greed and superstition of wealthy Chinese consumers.
And countries like Vietnam are complicit in being the gateway into those markets. Another store owner proudly shows off a secret warehouse with over four tons ($9.2 million-worth) of ivory.
While there is some hope in this documentary, the fact remains: we’ll stop the trafficking when we kill the demand. Leonardo DiCaprio and Paul G Allen should be commended for bringing us this valuable documentary.
Geoffrey Wells writes about privacy, elephant conservation, cyber trends and music. And of course, updates on his latest thriller, Atone for the Ivory Cloud.