After extensive research, largely by co-producer Jeannie Magill, we did a scouting trip and investigated stories in Kenya, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. We decided to limit the film to two locations in the interest of achieving depth rather than breadth.
We settled on Il Ngwesi (Kenya) and Marienfluss Conservancy (Namibia) for several reasons. We like that they were both cattles cultures, trying to expand their economies to capitalize on their natural resources, mainly wildlife. Yet they exhibited key differences:
Il Ngwesi was an established success story, looked to by much of East Africa as a model of community-based eco-tourism and conservation; while Marienfluss was at a relatively early stage of development and organization.
We like the contrast between the focus on tourism at Il Ngwesi, versus the focus on hunting and navigating conflicts with problem animals at Marienfluss. We also liked that Kenya is a predominantly green country, while the northwest of Namibia is brown and windswept.
Ironically, because our filming coincided with the worst drought in Kenya in half a century, the verdant Kenya landscape came to resemble Namibia's; and the drought brought certain stresses to bear on the established model of Il Ngwesi.
About three years. We made three trips to Africa - each about a month long - between May 2005 and August 2007. Editing took about 13 months, spread over a couple of years.
BACK TO TOP- Has Milking The Rhino Been Shown to the People in the Film? Two weeks before the U.S. broadcast premiere, a friend with a laptop showed Milking the Rhino to villagers and the lodge staff at Il Ngwesi.
When our friend tried to shut the computer during the closing credits, the whole village screamed in unison and insisted on watching until the screen went dark. The consensus was that the film "captured exactly the tone of both successes and struggles".
We have also shared the film with people at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and IRDNC, and screened it publicly in Nairobi, Kenya; Windhoek, Namibia; and several cities in South Africa. Our fondest wish (funding permitting), is to stage extensive screenings at the village level -- not just in locations depicted in the film, but in many places where people share the land with wildlife. Community-based conservation comes in as many flavors as there are communities and habitats. We hope Milking the Rhino can spur creative thinking about how to adapt these principles to the particular conservation and development aims of different locations.
- How Did the Drought Affect Il Ngwesi's View of Conservation?
In 1996, Il Ngwesi made the decision to set aside 80% of their group ranch for conservation and wildlife. The drought, and the need to find grazing for livestock, strained the community’s commitment to this plan.
During severe droughts, they do open up a large portion of the conservation area to livestock grazing. As James Ole Kinyaga puts it, keeping it off-limits during wet years is “like putting some meat in the freezer for tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.”
The drought of 2005-2006 was just such a “day after tomorrow,” and the well-maintained conservation area went a long way toward alleviating the pressure on cattle. This particular drought was so severe that some members of the community also made illicit incursions into the area immediately surrounding the lodge. But most of the community respected the boundaries until the rains finally came.
The drought certainly emphasized the age-old connection of pastoralists to their cattle and land. At the same time it highlighted the fact that wildlife do better during drought than domestic animals, and that a diverse economy gives more options for survival.
BACK TO TOP- Updates On the Namibian Commiphora Project
In November 2004, the IRDNC began investigating commercial use of perfume plants used by the Himba people in Kunene. This region is situated in the remote northwestern part of the country, near the Angola border.
The resin from the commiphora (Commiphora Wildii) plant naturally exudes a resin that can be harvested during the dry season (Oct. - Feb) in this area.
Four conservancies: Puros, Orupembe, Marienfluss, and Sanitatas began harvesting resin commercially in 2007. An agreement between the conservancies (using IRDNC as their rep) and a French firm. Sustainable and ethical harvesting practices were a key element in the agreement.
Originally, this was a women-only project - but when the men in the community saw the direct monetary proceeds the women generated, they asked to join the project. After deliberation, the women agreed that men could be part of harvesting, provided they only harvest when accompanied by a women's group to ensure proper harvesting procedure.
At Puros, the women insisted that resin drums containing the final harvest be clearly marked "male and "female", since they did not want to be held responsible for bad quality resin (with dry grass, seeds, or sand mingled in). Only registered members of the conservancy were allowed to harvest and sell the resin.
Harvesters are paid immediately upon delivery of the resin. Special scales were erected to clearly mark increments of N$10 so non-literate people would know precisely how much money they earned each week.
By the end of the 2007 harvest season, conservancies had collected almost N$30,000 of resin. The woman who harvested the most resin was from Puros Conservancy, with an income of N$643.
This collection of resin is a direct way that women and men may utilize their natural resources and gain income without formal education.
BACK TO TOP- Why didn't Il Ngwesi use swimming pool water to save cattle?
During the drought in Kenya, the Il Ngwesi lodge was not using water that could have helped cattle. Livestock were dying of hunger, not thirst: after 8 months of virtually no rain, the grass was exhausted. Il Ngwesi's pool is spring-fed from a local source. Even if they had released the water from the pool, it would not have nourished enough re-growth to make a difference. This was part of the bitter poignancy for Gitona, the Il Ngwesit moran who swept the pool while his cattle died of drought.
BACK TO TOP- What is Government's Role in Community-Based Conservation?
It varies from country to country, as with our two examples in the film.
In Namibia, government agencies such as the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) are active agents and partners in community-based natural resource management (CBNRM), and see it as a key part of the country’s development plan. Legislation passed in 1996 allows indigenous people living on communal land to band together into conservancies, which are the organizational basis for most CBNRM activities. The conservancies can negotiate fees with third party vendors who want to run tourism activities on their land; or they can run their own tourism enterprises when they gain the capacity. And where game censuses show there is enough wildlife to allow off-take, the MET negotiates with each conservancy a yearly quota for utilization such as own-use hunting (for meat), live capture (sale to other areas), and the tendering of trophy-hunting licenses to independent safari operators (the conservancies reap the profit). In short, the conservancies possess the same rights to exploit the natural resources within their borders as do private landowners. The government monitors the administration of these rights, gives technical support, and works with conservancies to devolve authority over conservation decisions down to the local level.
In Kenya, community-based conservation, derives most of its support from the private sector and non-governmental organizations; the government is less involved. The Il Ngwesi lodge, for example got its start-up funding and technical support through Ian Craig, who founded the neighboring Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. The government does work with change-agents like Lewa and Il Ngwesi by, for example, bolstering law enforcement to increase security around community conservation efforts. In addition, the Kenya Wildlife Service, the government agency that controls and technically owns all wildlife in the country, is involved in decisions about translocating endangered animals. Thus when Ian Craig wanted to move several rhinos from his conservancy to Il Ngwesi’s stewardship, the KWS needed to approve the plan based on Il Ngwesi’s readiness to protect the animals.
- Did the Unrest Following Kenya's Last Election Affect Il Ngwesi?
In an early scene in the film, members of the Il Ngwesi community wonder aloud, “What if we get a drought of tourism, like when they bombed those buildings in America?”
The new drought of tourism did come, spurred not by terrorism abroad but by internal unrest. Kenya’s contested presidential election in December, 2007 resulted in rioting and tribal violence that claimed nearly 800 lives and displaced around 600,000 people. The unrest had a severe impact on tourism in the entire country.
The region surrounding Il Ngwesi in north-central Kenya, populated mainly by Maasai, Samburu, Kikuyu, and Meru tribesmen, was not the locus of much violence. But the impression of insecurity caused a reduction in international tourism that hit Il Ngwesi hard.
Visits to the lodge, along with other lodges in the region, fell to practically nil for several months. As of this writing (October, 2008), tourism is back to about 80% of normal, as reported by Lewa Conservancy.
The susceptibility of tourism to downturns seems like a natural concept to pastoralists like the Maasai at Il Ngwesi who weather cyclical droughts; and the community is still largely supporting the lodge and the managed grazing program. At the same time, this event underscored the hazard, as one community member puts it in the film, of “putting all our eggs in one basket.”
BACK TO TOP- How Might Tourists Visit Community-Friendly Eco-Lodges?
Supporting tourism ventures in which local communities have a genuine stake is not only good ethics, it makes for a much more enriching travel experience. One of the things the film conveys is that there is a broad spectrum of relationships between lodges and local communities: from places like Il Ngwesi that are wholly owned and operated by the community, to commercial ventures that provide employment but not much else to surrounding villages. We urge travelers to ask many questions, both before and during your trip, abou the relationship between the lodge operator and people nearby.