How Trophy aims to open the debate on big-game hunting and animal conservation
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Trophy explores the complex heart of contemporary issues of animal conservation and commodification at a time when endangered African species such as elephants, rhinos and lions march ever closer to extinction. The National Student spoke to directors Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz, and the world’s largest private rhino breeder John Hume about the grey struggles animal conservation faces. In the documentary, the audience is first introduced to Philip Glass, a Texan and lifelong hunter whose dream is to hunt each of the “Big Five”: a lion, buffalo, leopard, rhino, and elephant. As despicable as this sounds at first, Philip is truly convinced his big-game hunting is helping save the targeted species from extinction. This is not a simple delusion on his part, but the conclusion of a well-thought reasoning. The thousands of dollars he pays for each animal (around $50 000 for an elephant) goes toward helping rangers track poachers, and the up keeping of the reserves the animals inhabit. There is also a common mantra that is chief in Philip’s belief, which is that “if it pays, it stays”- that is, if you assign monetary value to an animal, it is worth protecting, as its being alive is financially beneficial. So, paradoxically, by hunting and killing the Big Five, Philip is seemingly helping in their conservation by encouraging their breeding and protection from poachers. The documentary aims to weigh both sides of the debate surrounding this controversial claim. However, Clusiau and Schwarz admit this was not their original goal: “At the beginning, we came thinking that we should shame this industry”, Schwarz says. In fact, it is only when they were introduced to John Hume, a fierce advocate for the legalising of the rhino horn trade that the directors started to understand the complexity of the matter. Hume believes in the “if it pays, it stays” mantra- and aims to harvest and sell the horns of his more than 1500 rhinos- a process seemingly roughly akin to cutting one’s fingernail. “My detractors of course will tell you that I’m doing it for greed, that I want all this money from the horn”, he says.“ If I sold all of the horns I have, which is six tons of it, at what I consider an average price in South Africa of 10 000 dollars, I would get about half of what my project has cost me to date.” A retired property developer, Hume spends about five million Rand (£263 000) each month on security for the animals, veterinary costs, and various other expenses. Schwarz says, “John was introduced to us as ‘this devil that wants to gain of the rhinos’. And I think pretty quickly when we met him, we thought that even though we were not sure that we agreed with him, we didn’t feel that he was the cynical person we were led to believe. We felt that he really believes this is his life mission, and that he really believes in what he does.” “I think that was the beginning of me questioning things”, he continued. “I think that’s what started setting the tone for making Trophy more as a ‘heart and mind’ battle daring to ask hard questions.” This year, Hume took the South African government to court in order to lift a 2009 moratorium on the domestic rhino horn trade that triggered a massive spike in poaching.
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