Milking the Rhino

Cashing in on Conservation: Doc Soup Screens Milking the Rhino

Documentary-philes can warm up for Hot Docs this week with the Canadian premiere of David E. Simpson's Milking the Rhino. The February installment of the Doc Soup screening series explores a recent shift towards empowering rural communities in Namibia and Kenya to share in the benefits of wildlife conservation.

The goal of the film, Simpson explains, is "to tell what community conservation feels like from the rural African perspective instead of the white conservation perspective, which is the view of every other conservation film I've ever seen."

In a nutshell, NGOs and community groups are restoring wildlife populations by giving people a stake in preserving the area they live in (which seems pretty intuitive to me). This approach is likely to be more sustainable than past initiatives like banning subsistence hunting, building fences, and removing indigenous people from national parks.

So, what is the payoff? The bounty of eco-tourism. The Maasai tribe in Kenya in particular has become very sophisticated at marketing "the myth of Wild Africa" and the "wilderness experience" to its lodge guests.

But, David Simpson finds interview subjects that cover all the angles - and this new business/ecology model does not seem to be working out for everyone.

Although the film is generally positive about community-based conservation, one scene really stuck with me in which a village woman accuses an NGO representative of making her sign a lot of contracts and only "pretending you're here to protect wildlife".

Milking the Rhino plays February 11, 6:30 and 9:15 p.m. at the Bloor Cinema, with the director in attendance for a Q & A after the screening.
Still photo courtesy of Kartemquin Films.

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