Through The Thick – Preserving the Rhino in South Africa

Through The Thick – Preserving the Rhino in South Africa

Film Session(s)

14 minutes, Austria / South Africa, 2016




As the sun creeps over the South African plains, we are privileged to witness some of the most exquisite images of wildlife on the planet. A newly born elephant calf light-footedly follows his mother, as a herd of these gentle giants slowly caravans to the next watering hole. Two male giraffes emerge from among the trees, hammering their heads at each other in a playful rehearsal of trials to come. A cheetah lies in the shade, relaxed, for now, but dangerous like a loaded gun waiting to fire at the first sign of prey.

At Shamwari Game Reserve, in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, we find every corner, every creek, every grove teeming with wildlife. We have the opportunity to flex reality, manipulate time and slow a blink of an eye into an eternity, to truly appreciate the perfection and majesty of animal movement.

But there is one element that is proving increasingly harder to find: the White Rhino. With over one thousand rhinos killed every year, their numbers are dwindling fast. Their horn is a valued commodity in the far east, with healing properties that are as miraculous as they are unproven. Rhino poachers are constantly looking for prey in South Africa and, with a desire to harvest the most material out of the animals, they mutilate their faces often with fatal consequences. THROUGH THE THICK takes us not only into the dense South African bush, but also into an issue that spans continents, cultures and generations.

Andrew Kearney is the Ranger Manager at Shamwari Game Reserve. He leads us through the hidden trails of the bush, and shows us the secrets of the savannah. Completely in tune with his surroundings, he knows how Nature works here, like a watchmaker observing the predictable mechanism of a clock. His love for these animals and his drive to protect them is understandable: he has grown up with the rhinos. But most importantly to him, he doesn’t want his little girl to grow up in a world where the White Rhino is no more.

Rodney Visser and his men gather their combat gear and live ammo, and set off on patrol on another day of a war against an ever increasing enemy. Visser and his men are not the army. They are not the police. They are the team of dedicated individuals that make up the Anti-Poaching Unit, set on protecting the endangered rhino and parry the evolving methods that criminals employ to infiltrate the reserve. But as the unit rides away in their all-terrain vehicles, it is impossible not to wonder: what motivates a person to take up arms against their fellow man, and kill if necessary, in the name of Nature?

Dr. Johan Joubert, Head of Wildlife at Shamwari, is an experienced army veterinary with over 20 years as a civilian at the reserve. He scouts the plains with his team of trackers to ensure the health and safety of the animals, and especially to monitor the delicate rhino population. Although mostly calm, male to male rhino aggression is yet another factor that contributes to their sinking numbers, forcing Dr. Joubert to decide whether rhino horn removal by his own hand can ever be justified.

What is the right answer? Some say rhino horn use is inevitable, and should be welcome as a business enterprise in which the animals are farmed in a responsible manner. Others say the issue should be tackled at the source, putting more resources into educating the cultures where the demand for rhino horn originates. And there are those who think the poaching threat should be stamped out by force. But whatever the answer, it is clear that action must be taken fast. With three rhino being slaughtered every day, their time may be out sooner than we think.


Director(s): Nino Leitner

Producer(s): -