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‘Rhino Man’ brings Lowveld rangers’ daily battle to the world

When the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve's head ranger, Anton Mzimba, was murdered, the conservation world mourned. He has been eternalised through the film 'Rhino Man'.

A film called Rhino Man has been selected as a finalist in the Jackson Wild Media Awards in the USA.

This event is widely regarded as the ‘Oscars’ of wildlife films, and South Africans played a major part in making this film possible.

Rhino Man is a feature-length documentary about the rangers in Mpumalanga, risking their lives to protect the rhinos from being poached to extinction. The making of this film was an eight-year long process full of sacrifice and endless hours of dedication from everyone involved. It highlights the work of Marianne de Kock, her husband, Ruben, and their late friend and partner, Martin Mthembu, who founded and ran African Field Ranger Training Services (AFRTS).

Together they developed the coursework and trained tens of thousands of rangers across Africa and beyond. AFRTS continues to operate as a programme of the Southern African Wildlife College’s Protected Area Integrity Department.

Apart from their hard work, the film also highlights the life and murder of one of the most passionate and impactful rangers of our time, Anton Mzimba, Timbavati Private Nature Reserve’s head of ranger services at the time. Mzimba was killed outside his home just over a year ago on July 26. His death was considered a massive loss to conservation in general.

ALSO READ: Timbavati’s head of Ranger Services killed

Anton Mzimba. > Photo: ‘Rhino Man’ crew

In the past year, the film was completed, and recently showed at a private screening in London, with Prince William to help propel its release.

Ruben told Lowvelder, “The Jackson Wild Media Awards will place rangers in the spotlight and make them ‘visible’ to the world. Millions of visitors go to national parks and conservation areas and are oblivious to the presence of rangers – the very people who protect the wildlife they pay to see and the natural beauty they come to enjoy. All this while rangers are on the frontline, protecting the very area tourists support.

ALSO READ: Rangers observe solemn day in Kruger and other parts

“Having the Rhino Man film on an international stage will allow for continued support of rangers and Lowveld children through the Global Conservation Corps [GCC],” he said.

The GCC’s current main purpose is youth education and creating pathways for conservation careers. The Rhino Man website goes into much of the detail describing the impact made. Rhino Man was one of the GCC’s original projects, but due to Mzimba’s influence, focus has shifted from rangers towards the youth.

A social impact campaign was also created, which aims to raise $5m to create a pipeline for the next generation of rangers. This is a partnership between GCC non-profit, Thin Green Line, Southern African Wildlife College and the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. There is a call-to-action at the end of the film that will be coupled with multiple activation dates once the film is distributed and shared through a growing network of partners and supporters.

John Jurko II, Orlat Ndlovu, Matt Lindenberg and Anton Mzimba. > Photo: ‘Rhino Man’ crew

One of the directors, John Jurko II, said Rhino Man is not just a film, but a movement. “It tells a harrowing real-life story of what these rangers face to protect our planet’s natural spaces. It’s tough to watch at times, but it’s full of heart, love and hope for our future. We truly believe this film has the power to inspire so many to take action and bring the much-needed support to our planet’s rangers. At every screening, the room is left emotional and ready to help.

“There is currently a UN-led global initiative to protect 30% of the planet by 2030. In order to do that effectively, we need to hire, train and support an additional 1.25m rangers. That is an ambitious task, and we need the world to wake up to the need for more of these heroic men and women.

Anton Mzimba on radio. > Photo: ‘Rhino Man’ crew

“This opportunity at Jackson Wild is unprecedented, but we need the support from people like Lowvelder readers to reach our social impact goals.”

Readers can add their support by visiting rhinomanthemovie.org/take-action and donating to the cause.

Follow @rhinomanthemovie on social media, listen to The Rhino Man Podcast, wherein Jurko II interviews top conservationists about rhinos, rangers and the poaching crisis (there is also an interview with Mzimba), and tune in for ways to watch the film at future festival screenings and online once worldwide distribution is achieved.

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