ENTERTAINMENT NEWS - Stroop: Journey into the Rhino Horn War has been South Africa’s breakout documentary of 2018, winning 11 international awards – and it will leave you furious, worried, and feeling helpless at the enormity of the problem.
The Citizen sat down with Stroop producer Bonne de Bod and director Susan Scott and asked them what their biggest discovery was during the making of their first film.
“In my opinion, the problem lies with the criminal justice system,” De Bod said.
“It’s a system which works for the criminal and not for the victim. Yes, it’s important to arrest the poacher on the ground but the reward still outweighs the risk and we need to change that around.”
Stroop (ie, stripped in Afrikaans, in reference to rhinos being separated from their horns) took four years of filming to complete, and Scott and De Bod sold their homes, cashed in their investments, and moved in with their mothers to start self-funding it.
It takes viewers through a rollercoaster of events and emotions, from rescuing orphaned calves to pursuits through the bush, arresting poachers caught in the act, and how field rangers are affected by the poaching.
Scott noted she had realised people – who had a common goal of saving rhino – had picked sides in the war, mainly over whether to allow trade in rhino horn.
“And they’re fighting the whole time,” said Scott.
“It shouldn’t be about what side of the trade issue you’re on. It’s also about ego; you have all these organisations not willing to share information or work together because it’s all for themselves. Ego is a massive problem.”
“We’re all treading water in the same space; the water is rising, and we’re sinking,” De Bod added.
She noted there was a local mind set that structures were not doing their jobs, which she said wasn’t true.
“SANParks, the NPA, prosecutors, are working brilliantly – but there are bad apples which are holding up the system and that, for us, is important,” De Bod said.
The workload was also intense, with two specialist prosecutors – one of whom has resigned – handling six court rolls. Skukuza court alone handles 40-60 cases a day.
Under government “care”, poaching increased from 135 animals to 1,215 in national parks between 2012 and 2014 – an increase of 800%.
This year, the department of environmental affairs (DEA) could barely muster enough energy to send out a press release claiming that between January and August 508 rhino were poached, compared with 691 for the same period in 2017.
One issue Stroop picked up on was the small number of rhino calf orphans that were being found, despite the high number of cows being poached.
The DEA doesn’t keep or release numbers on how many orphans are found, or even how many cows were discovered to be pregnant, thus affecting in very real terms the actual number of rhinos removed from the ecosystem.
There’s also no accountability for rhino orphanages, some of whom it was alleged do not follow a proper regime of care.
On the horizon, however, is a glimmer of hope, with acting environment minister Derek Hanekom announcing reviews of how wild animals in captivity are to be kept.
His announcement was mainly aimed at the captive lion breeding industry. However, rhino rehabilitation expert Karen Trendler, now manager of the NSPCA’s Wildlife Trade & Trafficking Portfolio, believes “it was a little more hope than we’ve had for a long time”.
Trendler, whose rhino orphanage Thula Thula was hit by poachers and features in Stroop, said effecting change was up to everyone.
“Given what happened with the parliamentary colloquium (on captive lion farming), it took a huge collective effort and we have to keep it and the pressure up to produce results.”
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