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Milking the Rhino

A ferocious kill on the Serengeti...dire warnings about endangered species...These cliches of nature documentaries ignore a key feature of the landscape: villagers just off-camera, who navigate the dangers and costs of living with wildlife on a daily basis. When seen at all, rural Africans are often depicted as the problem - they poach animals and encroach on habitat, they spoil our myth of wild Africa.

MILKING THE RHINO tells a more nuanced tale of human-wildlife coexistence in post-colonial Africa. The Maasai tribe of Kenya and Namibia's Himba - two of Earth's oldest cattle cultures - are in the midst of upheaval. Emerging from a century of 'white man conservation,' which turned their lands into game reserves and fueled resentment towards wildlife, Himba and Maasai communities are now vying for a piece of the wildlife-tourism pie.

Community-based conservation, which tries to balance the needs of wildlife and people, has been touted by environmentalists as 'win-win.' The reality is more complex. 'We never used to benefit from these animals,' a Maasai host of a community eco-lodge explains. '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 shared by livestock and wildlife, the community's commitment to conservation is sorely tested.

Charting the collision of ancient ways with Western expectations, MILKING THE RHINO tells intimate, hopeful and heartbreaking stories of people facing deep cultural change.

'A wonderful, descriptive documentary, often perceptive and subtle, of the continuing conservation saga to create and sustain portions of the African landscape for both those who live there as well as those who just pass through. Milking the Rhino portrays aspects of these multi-faceted complex engagements between current proponents of tourist oriented activities and rural residents. The scenes allow the viewer to grasp the depths of competing life-styles, the devastating impacts of droughts upon rural economics and welfare, the meanings and interpretations of 'others' and their ways, differences in the significance attached to various mammals, the many ways that distrust and history reveal their pasts, the importance of rain and grass, the omnipresence of flies, hunting and the ways we learn about nature and from whom--as well as many more insights into different ideas and behavior.' Dr. Stuart A. Marks, Independent Scholar, Author, Large Mammals and a Brave People: Subsistence Hunters in Zambia, The Imperial Lion: Human Dimensions of Wildlife Management in Central Africa, and other volumes on nature and people

'I have worked in Kenya on these very issues for many years now, and this film really captures so much of the tension surrounding conservation...[It is] insightful and visually captivating...We see and hear about some of the ways in which rural people are trying to come to terms with increasing demands on land, animals (wild and domestic), and their own ideas of culture and acceptable employment...Not everyone agrees on what forms conservation should take and how benefits should accrue, and the film does not shy away from these tensions. Milking the Rhino is an honest and educational film that shows how some people are trying to make conservation work in Kenya and Namibia.' Dr. Jennifer Coffman, Associate Executive Director, Office of International Programs, James Madison University

'Must see viewing for those practicing conservation or ecotourism in Africa. Milking the Rhino brings the diverse and authentic voices of Africans to a broader audience. The film enlightens the debate around conservation practices in developing countries and illustrates the challenges and opportunities of community based conservation in a rapidly changing world.' Len Broberg, Director, Environmental Studies Program, University of Montana

'Milking the Rhino tells the fascinating story of a relatively recent development in African conservation: the community conservancy...The task of conserving wildlife on a continent still struggling with widespread poverty, developing government infrastructure, and growing human populations is a formidable challenge. Thinking outside the box will be the key, and the community conservancy concept as portrayed in this excellent film is at the cutting edge. As the film so aptly portrays, the conservancy concept is not without its problems or controversies, and its long-term success will still need to be objectively evaluated. However, it is an excellent example of how we must begin to better incorporate the human dimension into our evolving approaches to modern wildlife conservation.' Dr. Michael Hutchins, Executive Director/CEO, The Wildlife Society, Adjunct Associate Professor, Graduate Program in Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development, University of Maryland, Former Chair, Bushmeat Crisis Task Force

'Is ecotourism a viable strategy for wildlife conservation in Africa? Milking the Rhino asks the question directly to the people most affected by wildlife. What is it like to have an elephant destroy your most essential annual crop? How does it feel to have dangerous animals--animals that can and do kill people--living in close proximity? Do the tangible benefits of ecotourism compensate for increased populations of wildlife? Milking the Rhino provides a firsthand look at the highly nuanced and conflicting perspectives of people working both to make a living off the land and to maintain their traditional cultures. Be it elephants, tigers, mountain lions, or polar bears, the human dilemma remains the same: How can we use the land without losing its full panoply of species--including those that pose a direct threat to human welfare? Milking the Rhino asks all the right questions, showing us just how much is at stake for both people and biodiversity--but ultimately letting the viewers decide for themselves.' Dr. Charles C. Chester, Author, Conservation Across Borders: Biodiversity in an Interdependent World

'Milking the Rhino is a thought-provoking documentary which discusses the rise of commercial wildlife conservation efforts among rural communities in Kenya and Namibia...Like any great documentary, Milking the Rhino not only informs the viewer but leaves the viewer raising additional questions. What are the long and short term prospects and consequences of pursuing conservancy, for the land, the wildlife, and the existing culture? Who are and who ought to be the key players involved in the conservation process, and what competing agendas are at stake? Milking the Rhino offers an insightful look at the realities of conservation in Africa, and serves as a powerful base of knowledge from which to further examine these issues.' Muna Ndulo, Professor of Law, Cornell Law School, Director, Institute for African Development, Cornell University, Honorary Professor of Law, Cape Town University

'Enables the viewer to understand the connections between pre-colonial, colonial and post-independence policies and practices on hunting and preservation and their impact on society and culture from the perspective of those that experienced it or are involved in it (e.g. local community leaders, elders, and NGO workers), rather than from an outsider's point of view of how all of these interrelate. The relationship of colonialism and the challenges faced by these communities further resonates with the ongoing contemporary discussions in the development, conflict and environmental fields - to name a few - on whether solutions to African problems should be imposed based on Western models or worked out locally, how and by whom.' Aniuska Luna, African Peace and Conflict Network

'Highly Recommended...A concise comprehensive look at successful conservation efforts that are African led. It explores multiple issues - environmental conservation, community development, cultural anthropology, African history and politics, tourism and ecotourism. It provides a balanced picture of the issues and concerns and how they are being worked out. It is a story of hope and forgiveness, of people moving beyond the past and working together to build a sustainable future.' Janis Tyhurst, George Fox University, Educational Media Reviews Online

'Does an excellent job of describing how indigenous groups, represented by the Maasai and Himbi subjects in the field, deal with external limits to their own use of natural resources in their local area...I would recommend that instructors use this movie in courses which pertain to ecological, environmental and applied anthropology topics...Anthropologists who go to work with NGOs will benefit greatly from this film since it presents the conflicts that are born when global conservationism meets local survival.' Troy Belford, Anthropology Review Database

'Raising troubling questions about the daily realities of living in this difficult environment, this powerful documentary offers a distinctive perspective that is miles removed from the popular 'wild Africa' documentaries which celebrate animals while virtually ignoring the people...Highly recommended.' Video Librarian

'Community-based conservation ostensibly gives local people a stake in green tourism to help preserve wilderness and wildlife. The hopeful documentary Milking the Rhino finds two traditional African communities sorting out the somewhat stickier realities.' Utne Reader

'People who associate Africa only with jungles filled with wild animals are forgetting the people there who are trying to make a living raising crops or livestock...[A] beautiful film...Recommended for most libraries.' Library Journal

'In many typical documentaries about Africa, one sees pictures of plentiful, undisrupted, and magnificent wildlife; however, as this film is unique in discussing, if the camera person would just turn around, he or she would see a world where people are not only privileged to have wildlife live around them, but forced to pay a price for living with it...[Milking the Rhino] is worth the watch for those new to the conservation techniques in Africa, proving conservation is possible everywhere in the world.' Kristie Ann Conklin, DePaul University, Environmental Practice

'Offers hope based not in platitudes but in practical solutions.' Time Out Chicago

'A common theme in Kartemquin docs is that making a living is a political matter. Simpson skillfully adapts that perspective to rural Africa, where investing in wildlife links the Masai and others to the new globalism.' Chicago Sun-Times

'Fascinating, often beautiful...* * * * ' Chicago Tribune

'Milking the Rhino represents refreshingly optimistic fare...impresses throughout.' Variety

'David E. Simpson balances all sides of the argument, giving equal play to the emaciated cattle and the tenuous transfer of a black rhino, while generating impassioned and articulate discourse from all of his interview subjects.'

'Fresh and ultimately fascinating...A worthy film and a rare peek into a world most of us will never know.' Metro

'Director David E. Simpson takes care to consider multiple sides of the story, balancing respect for cultural traditions with an appreciation of commercial progress and a compulsion to tell the story and to comment on the history of African nature documentaries at large.' Independent Weekly


Main credits

Simpson, David E. (screenwriter)
Simpson, David E. (film director)
Simpson, David E. (film producer)
Bukusi, Munyikombo (narrator)

Other credits

Photography, Jason Longo; original music, Mark Bandy; editor, David E. Simpson.

Docuseek subjects

Distributor subjects

African Studies
Animal Rights
Business Practices
Conflict Resolution
Developing World
Endangered Species
Environmental Ethics
Human Rights
Indigenous Peoples
International Studies
Life Science
Local Economies
Marketing and Advertising
Multicultural Studies
Social Justice
Sustainable Development
Urban Studies


community-based conservation, community conservancy, Africa,; Serengeti, nature documentaries, villagers, wildlife, poaching, habitat, wild Africa, human-wildlife coexistence, livestock, post-colonial Africa, Maasai, Kenya, Himba Namibia, Marienfluss Valley, Il Ngwesi, ; game reserves, tourism, conservation, conservancy, colonialism, Kunene River, Outapi, Ian Craig, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, James Ole Kinyaga, Helen Gichohi, African Wildlife Foundation; "Milking the Rhino"; Bullfrog Films

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