South African conservation documentary, The Edge of Existence, will premiere at four international film festivals in September and October 2020 – the Freeland Film Festival, the Garden Route International Film Festival (GRIFF), the Ireland Wildlife Film Festival, and theWildlife Conservation Film Festival.
Directed by James Suter and Charlie Luckock of Black Bean Productions, the feature documentary highlights the complex issues around human-wildlife conflict in Africa (specifically focusing on Tanzania). The film delves into the issues, causes and challenges of the threat to wildlife and human life, and considers the solutions. And the cinematography is breathtaking, featuring sweeping aerial shots of vast herds on the plains of Tanzania, juxtaposed against the hard images that tell the story of life in the villages, the threat of poaching and the conflicts that arise.
Focus on Human-Wildlife Conflict in Conservation Areas
The in-depth feature documentary highlights the complex issues around human-wildlife conflict in Africa (specifically focusing on Tanzania). The film delves into the issues, causes and challenges of the threat to wildlife and human life, and considers the solutions.
Globally, conservation and wilderness areas are severely limited, and are constantly under threat. Conversely, local communities living in the vicinity of wildlife areas suffer significant losses as local farmers’ crops are decimated by raiding elephants, and livestock is killed by predators. Both animals and people are often injured or killed, especially in open systems, where the conservation boundaries are not fenced in.
“The situation results in a loss of income and even starvation, and in this context, it is not surprising to see poaching on the increase, reinforced by local and international demand for bush meat,” says James Suter.
“Few people really understand the concept of human-wildlife conflict. Even within the conservation space, it’s a topic that only recently is starting to be discussed. It has always lived in the shadow of poaching. Human-wildlife conflict, in my opinion, is a much bigger issue. It affects wilderness areas, not just one specific species, and its impact is complex.”
Suter explains that the wildlife market is fuelling the fire. “You got people subsistence poaching, basically hunting as they always did to feed themselves. A lot of people see this as a right. On the other side of the coin, you’ve also got a huge demand for bush meat. It’s become a syndicate operation. There is a huge market in Africa for bush meat, there’s also a huge number of Africans living abroad with a massive demand for bush meat.
“It’s all done illegally. There are large ports, like Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. It’s not impossible for these guys to illegally ship tons of bush meat in one shipment.
“In Tanzania, with the annual wildlife migration, tens of thousands of animals are poached every year with wire snares. It’s similar to fishing. They will take a line and there are hundreds of nooses along the line. The poor animals die such a slow and lingering death.”
“It’s a story that needs to be told and the issues discussed. Conservation is not sustainable unless we find workable solutions to human-wildlife conflict, that can support the communities affected; and against this backdrop the international trade in wildlife (Legal or illegal) is just speeding up the destruction and driving species to extinction.”
Watch the Film
The good news is that The Edge of Existence, will be available to view online for a limited time:
The Garden Route International Film Festival (GRIFF) will be taking place from the 21 September – 11 October 2020. Tickets can be purchased online via webtickets. Viewers can buy an all-access pass for R300 or individual film tickets for R50. A ticket to watch EOE at the GRIFF costs R50 and can be purchased at: https://www.webtickets.co.za/v2/EventCategory.aspx?itemid=1502681725
For more information visit: https://www.gardenrouteinternationalfilmfestival.com/
The Freeland Film Festival will take place from 11-15 September 2020. There is an option to buy an all-access festival pass or to buy individual tickets. The tickets cost around $6-$8. For more information visit: https://freelandfilmfest.eventive.org/welcome
The Ireland Wildlife Film Festival takes place from 10-15 September.
Tickets are FREE: https://www.irelandwildlifefilmfestival.com/
The 10th Wildlife Conservation Film Festival (WCFF) will be virtual, taking place between . 1-31 October with over 150 documentary films and daily Live Chats with international filmmakers scientists, conservationists . Festival Pass $12 for unlimited, 24/7 access, October 1 – November 8. Watch on your TV, Android phone/tablet, Computer/Laptop, or on Apple TV with your iPhone. Book here: https://lnkd.in/d-PsTrY
Making a balanced film
Suter says that in making The Edge of Existence, they set out to provide a comprehensive, balanced and objective overview to the scale and severity of human-wildlife conflict.
“One of the most interesting things about this project is that it’s a story that hasn’t really been told, and it’s a story that affects populations of people all around the world, as well as wilderness areas and the wildlife that inhabits them,” said Suter.
In making the film Black Bean productions specifically focused on the western boundary of the Grumeti concession area, but the issues covered are universal across wildlife areas globally. “We’ve taken the western corridor of the Serengeti as a microcosm of what happens around the world. Yes, it happens in different ways and different species are involved, but it’s a massive issue here in Africa facing conservation. With the exponential growth in populations, both people and wildlife stand to be affected,” said Suter.
The documentary looks at the conflict from a very personal perspective, considering the lives and the stories of both conservationists and community members. “We met so many people who had been so badly affected by human-wildlife conflict. Subsistence farmers, who if they can grow a surplus, they can sell their crops and send their kids to school.
“In a single sitting, an elephant or herd of elephants can decimate a field of mielies, destroying a family’s food and income for a season.
“What we are really trying to do with the human wildlife conflict story is come from an objective opinion. Look at both sides. Look at the people living with wildlife, empathise with them. Look at the wildlife that are affected by the people and empathise with them. Look at the conservation organisations that are working to mitigate conflict, but at the same time protect wildlife, which ironically actually has a negative effect on people – Increasing wildlife has a negative effect on the populations living with those animals. We are also looking at what governments do as well. It is very complex and this is why it is such a difficult story to tell.”
Suter emphasises that what makes human-wildlife conflict so complex is that there is no simple solution. “Around the world, various mitigation strategies are being implemented. The success of these, however, varies from place to place and depends on a wide range of factors. For example, in some countries, organisations have opted to use predator compensation funds, which is an initiative that ensures farmers and community members are compensated when their livestock is killed by a predator. In compensating these individuals for their losses, the likeliness of them retaliating against wildlife in the area decreases drastically. While these types of initiatives have seen great success, they are dependent on funding and community cooperation. A lot of the mitigation tools we are seeing around the world are not necessarily transferable or sustainable in the long-term for all wilderness areas.”
A fence as a mitigation strategy
The Edge of Existence specifically focuses on one mitigation strategy, which is highly controversial in Tanzania. “We focus on whether building a fence is an effective way to mitigate human-wildlife conflict. There are many different perspectives around this mitigation strategy, which The Edge of Existence touches on, and the film explores why it is an effective tool that will ultimately promote the peaceful co-existence of humans and wildlife that inhabit an area, as well as the controversy around building a fence,” says Suter.
“Again, each country, community and wilderness area is unique. There is no simple solution.”