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Sides of a Horn: Exploring the horrors of South Africa’s poaching war

Image of a rhino in the bush.

September 22, 2018 is World Rhino Day, a day that celebrates all the five species of rhino: black, white, greater one-horned, Sumatran and Javan rhinos. This day has grown to be a global phenomenon celebrated by governments, animal-rights organizations and animal enthusiasts around the world. In recent years, rhinos have been threatened by poaching, which has left certain rhino species on the brink of extinction while leaving other species severely endangered. This day therefore not only celebrates this species and supports their future, but it most importantly generates awareness of issues regarding their well-being. This year, I haven’t come across a more thrilling awareness campaign than Sides of a Horn.

From executive producer Sir Richard Branson, Sides of a Horn is the first film to tell the story of South Africa's poaching war from both sides of the fence. Based on actual events and filmed in the townships and game reserves most directly impacted by wildlife crime, this dramatic short film paints an unbiased portrait of a modern war that is tearing apart communities and driving a pre-historic species to the verge of extinction.

I could say it was by no chance that Toby Wosskow (Writer/Director, Sides of a Horn) found himself traveling in South Africa in 2016, lost in the natural beauty of the game reserves and the wildlife who call the land home. He narrates this experience as if time had stood still for the past two years. “One afternoon, I was walking through the bush with a game ranger, when we stumbled across a white rhino peacefully grazing. What struck me more than the animal’s vicious beauty was that this scene could have been taking place 50 million years ago or today. I was looking at a living, breathing time machine in a land that time forgot. However, the magic of that moment was tainted when I quickly learned that this magnificent creature was being massacred to the brink of extinction.”

They say that every creative has a moment, it’s a quick flash—but if captured, it carries with it pure brilliance, which it appears Toby did. After traveling back to the U.S., he continued researching and found that there was a fair amount of international media coverage about the multi-billion-dollar illegal wildlife trade, but nobody was talking about the communities on the ground who were being torn apart by this war. As a filmmaker, he felt the responsibility to expose the social impact of the illegal wildlife trade and humanize the men and women who were so devastatingly affected. By painting an unbiased portrait of this modern war and exposing both sides of the struggle, it is Toby’s hope that Sides of a Horn can be a catalyst that inspires a greater discussion.

I had the chance to talk to Toby about what this film meant to him and what he hoped to achieve at the end of the day, and his response was powerful:

“A year ago, on World Rhino Day, we launched a crowdfunding campaign and 235 generous activists from 16 different countries contributed to bringing this film to life. To be able to do our first private screening exactly one year later on the following World Rhino Day is such a beautiful, full-circle moment. I will be at our Los Angeles screening, leading a panel discussion about wildlife crime in partnership with the incredible team at the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). Simultaneously, our South African team will be having the same challenging debate over 10,000 miles away, following their same-day screening in Johannesburg. The reason we made Sides of a Horn was to inspire a greater conversation among global citizens that can lead to positive change. I am pleased to be able to announce that the conversation starts now.” – Toby Wosskow

AWF is the primary advocate for the protection of African wildlife and wild lands, working across the continent of Africa implementing programs that are focused on safeguarding areas of high-conservation value. It has therefore been our utmost honor being able to support Toby and his team in any way we can. I had a chat with AWF’s Council Chair, Ms. Bobbie Ceiley, about the film and she finds it very empowering:

“It is a powerful and thought-provoking film that will shed more light on the subject, not only in terms of conservation but also about the communities living around wildlife resources and the real impact on the ground. As AWF, we are confident that this partnership will help us reach a broader audience that we haven’t yet reached and, as they think about the issues raised in the film, we want to be there with them.” – Bobbie Ceiley

On March 19th, 2018, Sudan—the world’s last male northern white rhinoceros—sadly passed away. As someone from Uganda, where historically both the white and black rhino could be found living in the country, this news was tragic to me. Rampant poaching during the post-independence conflicts devastated wildlife. Rhinos were declared extinct in the country’s wild and, given the current rate of poaching for rhino horn, this film couldn’t have come at a better time. I cannot imagine a more impactful way to celebrate this year’s World Rhino Day than viewing Sides of a Horn, and that should be the same for you.

For more information about the film:

Behind-the-scenes photos
Behind-the-scenes film

About the Author

Shaban Senyange is AWF's Media Relations Assistant.

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AWF Blogs bring you to the critical landscapes we work in, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.