By Will Travers, CEO of Born Free
“Trophy, a new feature length wildlife ‘shockumentary’ by Shaul Swartz and Christina Clusiau, is a film of two storylines.
The first focusses on trophy hunting in Africa and follows a man with a weak grasp on reality, Philip Glass, on his quest to shoot the Big Five (rhino, elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo). Philip is hell-bent on his mission and will go to extraordinary lengths to succeed, including shooting 17 wild animals as ‘bait’ to lure a magnificent lion to within yards of his high-powered rifle.
Weeping over its corpse, Mr Glass seeks absolution and approval from the spirit of his dead father – a challenging man by his own admission.
He also lays it in the line by stating that anyone who believes in evolution is a fool, and that (gun by his side) ‘no bureaucrat is going to take away his trophy’.
The film is peppered with assumptions and assertions about trophy hunting that are offered in an almost ‘fact-free’ environment. We are told (by a representative of America’s premier hunting organisation, Safari Club International) that “all the money (from trophy hunting) will go back into conservation” with no evidence to back it up. Also that belief in the medical value of rhino horn “has been around for millions of years”. Neither is true.
Trophy hunting, as portrayed in the film, will do little to foster informed debate but those who admire the killing of wild animals for ‘fun’ will probably support it, the many implacably opposed (like me) will reject it, and people who may have their doubts will most likely be disgusted by the brutal eye-witness shooting of an elephant, a hippo, numerous antelope, a lion and, perhaps most distressingly of all, a crocodile, trapped in a pond and blown away by a beer-swilling, foul-mouthed lout, egged on by his ‘I want crocodile skin shoes and a belt’ partner.
My conclusion: Trophy Hunting is controversial, sickening and offensive to anyone with a heart.
The second aspect of the film was downright dangerous. It presented with almost no counter-argument, the conservation ‘recipe’ of South African, John Hume, the most successful private rhino breeder on the planet, with 1530 rhino to his name.
Mr Hume’s recipe is to breed rhino, cut off their horns and sell them – currently legal in South Africa but prohibited internationally. It is put forward by the film’s makers with almost no risk analysis, no alternative vision and no understanding of what would happen to the world’s 30,000 remaining wild rhino if his dream came true.
It is a recipe for disaster, cooked up by some well-known pseudo-economists in South Africa who have, it seems, little or no understanding of economics and what will happen if you create a legal market for rhino horn and peddle it to hundreds of millions of potential customers in the Far East.
They and Mr Hume seem oblivious to the lessons of history. In 2008 the international community, despite the separate pleas of Born Free and others, approved a ‘one-off’ sale of more than 100 tonnes of ivory from South Africa and several other countries to Japan and China. Far from ‘satisfying consumer demand’, as the architects of this sale hoped, it fueled a dramatic and deadly explosion in poaching and illegal ivory trade. Between 2009 and 2014, Tanzania, an African elephant stronghold, lost an average of 1,000 elephants a month, every month, for five years. That’s 60,000 Elephants.
The poaching epidemic continues it this day with 20,000 Elephants poached each year, tons of ivory being seized, and wildlife rangers and wardens – the elephants’ first line of defense – losing their lives. More than 1,000 have been murdered in the last 10 years.
And yet, Mr Hume is convinced and, in the absence of proper analysis and a counter-perspective, convincing. He’s just an old guy who wants to save his rhino right? Wrong!
So where does that leave us?
With a film called Trophy that can’t make up its mind whether it’s about trophy hunting or rhino horn trade.
With a film that has ambitions to be the next Blackfish – it is not.
With a film that seeks to stimulate debate by both sides – it can’t (because grown-up debate requires facts).
With a film that says it wants to bring people together to find solutions – it doesn’t.
Trophy is, in my view, opinionated, dangerous, difficult and naive.
Those who have helped fund its making, including the BBC, need to look carefully at their own internal rules. The viewing public should treat it as a toxic substance. It is not informative. It is not balanced. And it should not be relied upon.
As for Mr Schwarz and Ms Clusiau, the old adage appears to ring true. ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’. Trophy, for all the hype, has done little to make things any clearer. They ask members of the public to join the conversation but then shut down real debate. Schwarz openly admits that he supports Mr Hume’s ‘recipe’.
I believe this film will be used by the South African government to push for legalization of rhino horn trade at CITES, the global wildlife trade conference to be held in Sri Lanka in 2019. If that proposal is approved then I predict an apocalyptic future for rhino and poaching rates we can only imagine.
Maybe wild rhino will soon be gone. Maybe the only survivors will belong to Mr Hume. If so, Trophy will be partly to blame.”
Howard Jones, CEO of Born Free also states:
“I have serious concerns as to the motives of this film. One could take the view that the confused narrative, absence of facts, unchallenged dogma, forgotten threads, add up merely to bad film-making. But the stakes are too high for that – the aggression and motivation of the director appear too stark; Mr Swartz knows what he is doing. This miss-named film appears to be about Mr Hume and a business into which he has sunk over £50m. It is more about messing with resource-economics, unmeasurable demand and intended consequences. A number of people stand to get very rich indeed, if this model of consumptive wildlife management gains ground. We cannot allow this film to slip by whilst we all miss the true purpose – duped into thinking that it is all about weird American hunters and Namibian thugs. It is about Rhino horn farming. We must call it out for what it is.”
Actor Dan Richardson, patron to Born Free and Ambassador to Angels for the Innocent also commented: