Stroop: Journey into the Rhino Horn War
On the frontline of the war against rhino poaching
Two filmmakers put their lives on hold to make a film about the rhino poaching crisis in South Africa. Initially carving out six months for the project, the women end up spending four years immersed in a world far larger and more dangerous than they could possibly have imagined. Granted unprecedented access to the rangers on the frontline in South Africa’s national parks and with extraordinary undercover footage showing how the horn is processed, packaged and sold in Asia, filmmakers Bonné de Bod and Susan Scott capture a never-before-seen panorama of the global trade in rhino horn.
The deaths of Impy and Gugu are far from isolated incidents: in the past decade, rhino poaching has exploded, stoked by demand in Southeast Asia, where rhino horn doubles as a traditional medicine and as a prized component of high-end jewellery and ornaments. Worth more than its weight in gold, the demand for the horn has decimated the animal’s numbers, with fewer than 30,000 left in the world.
In South Africa’s national parks, rangers, pilots and K9 units fight what one ranger describes as “a low intensity war” against poachers. In the hardest hit area of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, a unit of 20 rangers is expected to cover an area three times the size of Paris. Working against increasingly sophisticated and organised adversaries, they have their work cut out. “He’s always at the advantage, he’s choosing where to go, you have to follow”, says one ranger describing the uphill battle to defeat the poachers.
Across the world in Vietnam, the spoils of the poachers’ success are hard to avoid. Rhino horn is coveted in Vietnam and China for what are believed to be its powerful medicinal qualities. One vendor of traditional Chinese medicine in Hanoi tells an undercover filmmaker that rhino horn can be used for symptoms as wide ranging as acne, benign tumours and liver disease. Granting permission to speak on condition of anonymity, a Vietnamese woman with cancer supplements her chemotherapy by ingesting ground up rhino horn. According to Chinese traditional medicine, she explains, “it supports the chemo for a quicker result.”
But as the rhino’s plight worsens, the international effort to protect them stalls on diplomatic tension and corruption. In South Africa, rumours of politicians protecting poachers for personal gain constantly circulate. On the ground, veterinary surgeons now perform risky dehorning surgery to deter poaching. Karen Trendler, who runs the Thula Thula orphanage, believes it’s a sad but necessary last resort. “It’s hard to see, it’s necessary but it’s hard to see.”
Reviews and More
“A hard-hitting – and ultimately moving – documentary” – Sandtown Chronicle
Bonné de Bod discusses unravelling the rhino horn industry here.
For an interview with filmmakers Bonné de Bod and Susan Scott, see here.
San Diego International Film Festival - Best Documentary Award
San Francisco Green Film Festival - The Green Tenacity Award
Wildlife Film Festival Rotterdam - Newcomer Award
St Louis International Film Festival - Official Selection
Courage Film Festival - Best Documentary Award and The Courage Award for Most Courageous Film
Glendale International Film Festival - Best Female Filmmaker Award
San Pedro International Film Festival - Best Documentary Award
Santa Cruz Film Festival - Spirit of Action Feature Film Award
LA Femme International Film Festival - Special Focus Documentary Award
Mystic Film Festival - Best International Documentary Award