By Jess Fenton
5th July 2021

Day after day, human beings prove that we don't deserve animals. We've evolved well past needing them for food and warmth, and yet we continue to take life after life so needlessly that our excuses now include: because we can, because I wanna, and because it makes me appear rich and powerful. Experts estimate that we lose 2,000 animal species every year - and every now and then, they're not talking about the tiny kind no one even knew existed. In 'The Last Horns of Africa', filmmaker Garth De Bruno Austin (in his directorial debut) explores the diminishing rhino population in Africa.

Rhinos are hunted for their horns. To the educated, a rhino's horn is simply keratin (the same stuff as our hair and fingernails) that the creature requires for defence and foraging, while a human has no real conceivable use for it. Oh, but we little scamps found a way. Dagger handles, eastern medicines (despite containing absolutely zero medicinal properties), jewellery and, in China, powdered rhino horn is seen as a status symbol which they sprinkle on their cocktails. Go figure.


In 'The Last Horns of Africa', De Bruno Austin explores all sides of the matter - the people who try to protect them, the people who try to save them, the people who kill and profit from them, and the useless, idiotic bureaucrats in between. While the film does cover all bases, from the rangers at the Kruger National Park sworn to protect them to the woman who runs the world's largest rhino orphanage and the poachers themselves, it's ultimately flat, devoid of inspiring any real emotion or riveting intrigue. Even the sequence where the rangers set up a sting operation to help take down the kingpins of the illegal horn trade lacks suspense. Audiences have been spoiled in the past with groundbreaking documentaries such as 'Blackfish' and 'The Cove', which made suspenseful must-sees out of ethical animal plights. On screen, we the audience can empathise with the emotional turmoil many of the people portrayed are suffering through, but we ourselves are not afforded those emotions due to lacklustre story structure and development.

Experts estimate that we lose 2000 animal species every year...

While the rhino horn trade, poaching practices and the efforts many go through to protect these magnificent creatures is vitally important and is a story worth telling, there are ways to do it and ways not to in order to reach the audience you need and create the sense of urgency required. This is sadly not that film.

Looking for more Melbourne Documentary Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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