This film contains some images that you may find disturbing
Greedy. Cruel. Heartless. This is the image many of us will have when we think about poachers.
South African filmmaker James Walsh became frustrated that only one side of the poaching story was being told.
"Conservation films tend to focus on what happens in the nature reserve, within the boundaries of a fence, and in South Africa that tends to be a very white-man-khaki-dominated narrative," he says.
He says this focus on conservation "inside the fence" ignores the realities of life for the people who live on the boundaries of South Africa’s nature reserves.
In the last 100 years, many rural communities were uprooted from their land to make way for reserves.
Today, these communities are often poor, lacking access to employment and opportunities.
"They see all this wildlife on the other side of the fence and they see it as an opportunity to either have food for themselves or have food to sell to neighboring communities," says Walsh. "It's not like rhino horn where there's a massive payoff."
Based in Cape Town, Walsh has spent the past six years creating documentary films across southern and east Africa with Sinamatella Productions.
"What I wanted to do was find a story that showcased both sides of the fence," he says.
With help from the Wildlife ACT Fund, Sinamatella created (en)snared, a short film that examines the complex relationship between rural communities, conservationists and endangered wild dogs in Somkhanda Game Reserve.
There are fewer than 7000 African wild dogs left in the world, and only about 400 in South Africa. In Somkhanda, dogs are injured by snares left by local poachers to trap antelope or wildebeest.
The film follows conservationists trying to save the endangered species on ever-reducing budgets, and teachers working in schools with hungry children, alongside the stories of former poachers.
Ex-poacher Albert Mathe says villagers like him turned to hunting, not to get rich, but to feed their families. He says they stopped poaching after some of their people were killed.
"Poaching is a thing of the past now. It's just pointless," he says.
Albert's brother Philmon lost a leg after he was shot while poaching.
"Ever since I was a child, hunting is all I've known," Philmon says. "Unemployment drove me to this."
The man who shot Mathe tuned out to be a cousin who was working as a security guard on the reserve.
Despite living in such close proximity to the parks, many of the children had very little knowledge of the animals living in the reserves. Some parents had never even seen an elephant in the wild.
This disconnect from wildlife is being addressed through education programmes in schools and by taking the children into the park for game drives.
"The kids go home and educate their parents, 'no we don't want to eat bush meat,' 'no we don't want poached animals'," says Walsh. "If we don't look after these communities, if we don't empower them, then we're going to loose this biodiversity."
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