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Saving Rhino Phila – A Genre-Busting Documentary on the Massacre of a Species

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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This just in: Saving Rhino Phila is the winner of a much coveted Panda at the Wildscreen Film Festival 2012!

From the opening scenes you’d never guess it was a wildlife documentary. There’s a tense, moody darkness as you observe criminals at work – equitable to the unease you feel at witnessing the sinister actions of organized crime during a dramatic feature. You know these guys are mean, you know that they are willing to kill for their cause, and you know that the evil syndicate extends far beyond the men on the ground.

The scene is South Africa in 2010, and the offense is rhinoceros poaching – to near genocidal proportions.

Stakes are high. In an article released October 17, 2012, The Vancouver Sun reports that the value of rhino horn has soared to $65,000 per kilogram, making it more expensive than gold. A record number of rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa this year, a total of 455 so far. Today on Extinction Countdown, John Platt discusses some of the latest statistics about rhinoceros poaching and why the horns are so valuable. The focus of my post here at PsiVid is a new documentary on the topic.

Saving Rhino Phila is a finalist at the prestigious WildScreen Film Festival taking place in Bristol, UK, this week. According to director Richard Slater-Jones, the aim was to create a documentary that appeals to a wider audience than the normal wildlife-film-watching crowd. The film is meant to ‘hit the audience between the eyes’ by focusing on the extremely dramatic story of the heroine, a rhinocerous named Phila. She has beaten tremendous odds by surviving two viscious and brutal attempts on her life, and is now living the rest of her days in a place that is far from optimal – for her own safety.

The documentary presents a unique combination of intense dramatic sequences and heart-wrenching interviews with people on the front lines. At times you completely forget that you’re watching a documentary. You want to see the evil poachers go down; you want to feel the satisfaction of justice being served, the Hollywood ending. It’s downright jarring when you’re drawn back into the factual content and you realize that reality presents anything but a happy, fullfilling summary.

For more information and a behind the scenes look at the shooting of Saving Rhino Phila, check out the NHU Africa website here.

Carin Bondar About the Author: Carin Bondar is a biologist, writer and film-maker with a PhD in population ecology from the University of British Columbia. Find Dr. Bondar online at, on twitter @drbondar or on her facebook page: Dr. Carin Bondar – Biologist With a Twist. Follow on Twitter @drbondar.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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