The Last Animals is a 91-minute documentary by war photographer Kate Brooks. It is probably one of the most uncensored exposé into the darkest fathoms of a new kind of genocide sweeping across most of Africa’s wildlife areas. The Last Animals manages to unearth the intricate web of underworld cartels behind the lucrative illegal wildlife trade and connects this to international terrorism.
Posing as a tourist, Kate gives us a sobering glimpse into the plight of the African Elephant and rhino. From the backyards of Kenya’s conservancies, fighting tirelessly to save remnants of a critically endangered Northern White Rhino to the illegal wildlife markets of Asia, The Last Animals manages superbly to lay bare the conflicting worlds of poaching and conservation in a way never done before.
At the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, viewers momentarily breathe a sigh of relief as groups of conservationists, rangers, and scientists work tirelessly to restore the species’ single-digit population to viable numbers. There is hope, after all.
But in Asia, a thriving illegal market casts an ominous cloud on the future of this noble work. Business people sell animal parts and ivory products in broad daylight while displaying conservation posters in their shops unabashedly. In one scene, a dealer proudly showcases images of his collection of rhino-horn bracelets on top of a poster on his counter featuring a cartoon of a baby rhino that a conservation organisation used in a campaign to raise awareness of the rhino’s looming extinction.
Watching the documentary, one wonders if the message ever hits home or if, like many bold ivory-burning events in the past, this one also falls on deaf ears. During its making, 100,000 elephants and 5,000 rhinos reportedly died and their tusks and horns were used to make ornaments, jewellery, and traditional medicines.
Does that mean then all these well-meaning efforts to reduce if not eradicate poaching are an act in futility? Was the production of this film at considerable risk to Kate and her team worth nothing? The answer to these questions is undoubtedly no. The Last Animals may not have put an end to the wanton destruction of wildlife in Africa.
Still, it certainly made its contribution to raising awareness of the dynamics at play and the actions we must all take in our small ways. It gave hope to a seemingly hopeless situation. It made people (probably even Kate herself) dare to dream again of a future where populations of these majestic creatures roam the wild free. All because of the efforts of a few simple people with big hearts.
One may also be safe to say an occasional dose of the macabre has its way of leaving lasting impressions that trigger positive change, and The Last Animals may quickly achieve that for its grizzly depiction of poaching. Countless people in this world adorn jewellery and other items they have not the slightest idea of the brutality that goes into their production. Watching The Last Animals may very well change their perspective.
Today as we celebrate Earth Day around the world, we are reminded to believe in science and science tells us there are no known health or medical benefits to rhino-horn powder, bat soup, or bear bile. Make sure you watch The Last Animals this Earth Day. There is a good reason it has won over ten prestigious film awards including the Disruptor Innovator Award at the Tribeca Film Festival, the Top 4 Audience Choice Awards by Hot Docs, and Best Documentary Feature at the San Diego International Film Festival.