On World Elephant Day, August 12, German filmmaker Jakob Kneser talks about the haunting effects of poaching and says poachers are highly organized and can often even count on political protection.
DW: What motivated you to make a film about poaching in Africa?
Jakob Kneser: I personally thought poaching was a thing of the past until I read an article from Greenpeace about the situation in Chad, a country in central Africa. I didn't imagine that it could be such a growing industry nowadays. It was shocking to learn that thousands of animals are being slaughtered and might be extinct in the near future.
How was the experience? Did you feel threatened during filming?
Filming in Africa for the first time was a challenging experience. We had to adapt to other work rhythms and be more open to spontaneous situations. Regarding the security, we felt safe because we were with a special ranger unit established to fight poaching. They are heavily armed and accompanied us during the filming. The support for this came mainly from NGOs.
Did you have the feeling that animal poaching is a priority for the local communities in the countries you filmed in?
People know this is a catastrophe for their natural heritage. Elephants and rhinos are symbolic animals and are the main attraction for tourists, which means they generate economic income for the country.
However, in many remote regions, with lower education levels and high poverty rates, the natives are just disconnected. They perceive these animals as "white men's toys", referring to high class tourism. At the end, they don't profit from this industry and see no benefit in conserving these animals.
This could be an important part of a possible solution: local communities should receive direct economical benefits from tourism, so they can be encouraged to be involved in the protection of the animals.
What did you learn about the illegal organizations behind ivory trade?
Poachers come from the remote communities next to the areas where elephants and rhinos live. The illegal structures behind the trade are not fully identified. The groups are highly organized and operate at international levels. Some traders can even count on political protection, which makes it impossible to get them out of this billion-dollar business.
How do you think this documentary will help to raise awareness on the issue?
I'm sure that this is just a small part of the change, but wildlife trafficking should be taken more seriously. It is one of the biggest illegal businesses, but in comparison to drugs or weapons, the investment to fight it is insignificant and there are not enough people involved. The world needs to become aware and take action and that is what we intend to do with this documentary.
What has public reception of your film been like?
As I was before, the public is not aware enough about the situation. Many people don't know that there is a poaching crisis and even think that there are too many elephants on this earth. So people who have seen the film have been really surprised and shocked with this "news," which is what we want to achieve: to raise their awareness and get them to take action.
Jakob Kneser is a German filmmaker who directs documentaries and works as a lecturer for TV writing at the Humboldt University in Berlin.