A Film by David E. Simpson
The clichés of wildlife documentaries -- a ferocious kill on the Serengeti, warnings about endangered species – all ignore a key feature of the African landscape: villagers, just off-camera, who endure the dangers and costs of living with wild animals. When seen at all, rural Africans are often depicted as the problem: they poach wildlife and encroach on habitat, they spoil our romantic, Western myth of wild Africa.

Not so in Milking the Rhino, which takes the unique approach of turning the cameras around to tell a more nuanced tale of conservation in post-colonial Africa. The Maasai tribe of Kenya and Namibia’s Himba—two of the oldest cattle cultures on earth—are emerging from a century of “white man’s conservation,” which turned their lands into game reserves, and elevated wildlife for its exoticism at the expense of local people. Having borne the costs while reaping few of the benefits of wildlife, the Maasai and Himba are now vying for a piece of the economic pie and a path towards self-sufficiency.

Milking the Rhino depicts people at the cutting edge of “community-based conservation” (CBC), a new paradigm that tries to balance the needs of wildlife and people. It is a movement led by NGO field-workers and social entrepreneurs at the village level. CBC has been touted by environmentalists as “Win-Win”; but the devil is in the details. While the host of a community eco-lodge in Kenya contends “we never used to benefit from these animals but now we milk them like cattle,” his neighbor disagrees: “A rhino means nothing to me! I can’t kill it for meat like a cow.” And when drought decimates the grass prized by both livestock and wildlife, the community’s commitment to conservation is sorely tested.

Charting the collision of ancient lifestyles with Western expectations, Milking the Rhino tells intimate, harrowing and hopeful stories about rural Africans in the midst of deep cultural change.

Click here for UPDATES on storylines from the film (2MB, PDF)