The world rhino population has fallen by more than 90% in the past thirty years. Of the thirty species that once existed across the world, only five remain today, and all of these are facing extinction due to human superstition and greed. On 25 October 2011, it was confirmed that the last rhino in Vietnam died – a fact that places the two African rhino species (the white and black rhino) in even greater danger. In the year 2013 alone, it is known that over 1004 of South Africa’s 20.000 rhino population were lost to illegal poaching. The year 2014 presents a pivotal year for the rhino, since if we do not curb the deaths drastically the poaching rate will exceed the birthing rate – which means extinction. If the slaughtering continues at this ever-increasing rate, South African rhinos will be extinct within the next ten years.
It is a well-known fact that for centuries rhino horn has been an essential ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine to cure practically everything. It is also known that the use of rhino horn for medicinal purposes has scientifically long since been discredited. One might as well chew one’s own fingernail, since it consists of exactly the same chemical material. So, why is poaching on the rise?
The film HORN is a lived documentary that seeks to address this question by looking not to Asia, but to the conditions in South Africa itself – conditions which cultivate a perfect breading ground for animal poaching to develop from a petty crime to an organised criminal network. The film however moves beyond the act of poaching to highlight the social dimension of the crisis. HORN thus looks at rhino conservation as a way to positively address some of the underlying yet core factors that pave the way to wildlife crime. The film does so by following a group of rhino monitor trainees as they receive training and are deployed for their first experience in the field as monitors. Their motivation for becoming monitors as well as the environment from which they come subtly move viewers towards a perspective that links the fate of the rhino with that of the South African people. The intension is therefore to explore how the most basic form of rhino conservation (rhino monitoring) can play a crucial part in the complicated chain of anti-poaching strategies that seek to safeguard South Africa’s dwindling rhino population. In this way, HORN comments on the rhino’s important status as a heritage of national import in a country fraught with social and economic inequalities.
This perspective is supported by the contributions of community leaders in South Africa as well as figures working at the forefront of rhino conservation. HORN consequently not only highlights some of the problems facing rhino conservation, but also points out some of the significant social problems facing the communities in the affected areas – specifically in relation to education, security and accountability.