War photographer turned documentary filmmaker Kate Brooks is brave and passionate. She has covered wars and child abuses in Russian state orphanages, where she’s seen horrific atrocities committed against people. Now, she turns her attention to atrocities committed against wild animals, traveling within Asia, Africa, Europe, and the U.S.
In her excellent feature documentary “The Last Animals” at the Tribeca Film Festival, Brooks serves as an unflinching narrator. This is not an even-handed look at the subject. It’s a call to action, to show people the extent of animal poaching and trafficking around the world and just how close we are to the extinction of many species.
She began the project to investigate the links between the ivory trade and terrorism, during which she found that the same syndicates that traffic in the wild animal trade also traffic human beings and drugs.
If you buy ivory in the U.S., you might very well be putting money into the hands of a terrorist, as the trade funds a lot of conflicts in Africa. People assume that the jewelry they buy in the U.S. is legal, but Brooks says that isn’t necessarily the case.
In the process of investigating the slaughter of elephants, Brooks also discovered how many rhinos had been lost. At the beginning of filming, there were seven Northern White Rhinos left. At the end of filming, there were just three.
The footage includes elephant carcasses and dying animals, as well as a rhino sanctuary that raises orphans for the four or five years necessary before they can be reintroduced to the wild. Brooks clearly fell in love with the rhinos, who are much gentler than they have been characterized. Unfortunately, their powdered horns, which are believed to be medicinal, are very valuable.
In one brutal scene, a rhino is blindfolded and anesthetized so that its horn can be sawed off. While this prevents the animals from being poached, some of them don’t survive the experience. The rhino that was filmed succumbs.
Brooks was warned that her investigation might get her killed. She continued on, however, even spending time with military rangers in the Congo, where the elephants are being massacred at an alarming rate. They just don’t have enough rangers to police the park.
Here in the Congo, we see footage of bloodied, injured poachers, one of whom is very young and losing consciousness. The elder of the two, with bloody bandages wrapped around his chin, begins to cry as they are transported via helicopter. Then, Brooks films his interrogation.
Prince William is also interviewed in the film, as he’s a passionate advocate for completely banning the ivory trade. Brooks includes footage of a speech by Hillary Clinton on the subject as well. But there is still a great deal of political opposition across the globe.
While Brooks has no easy answers, she pulls no punches. Forty years ago, she says, we had the same warnings about the Northern White rhinos that we now have about the African elephant. According to Brooks, 96 elephants are killed daily, and one in five species on Earth faces extinction. If we don’t stop the slaughter soon, she contends, we could be the last animals left.
Go the film’s website for more information about what you can do about this issue.