The Culture Movies

'Trophy' explores moral intertwining of hunting and conservationism

The documentary, which is directed by Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau, is riddled with ambiguities.

Buffalo Dream Ranch, North West Province, South Africa -April 2016: An armed private security team patrols amongst some of John Hume's 1500 rhinos. Hume has invested more than 50 million US dollars into his breeding project but he fears that unless rhino horn trade is legalized he will not have enough income to protect his animals from poachers. From Trophy, directed by Shaul Schwarz, co-directed by Christina Clusiau.
Courtesy of Shaul Schwarz/Reel Peak Films
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( Unrated )
  • Peter Rainer
    Film critic

“Trophy” is a documentary that can make the stomach turn and the head spin. It’s about the big-stakes world of hunting and conservationism, and what’s surprising is how morally intertwined the two activities are.

The first scene in the movie shows a rhinoceros being shot with a tranquilizer gun and then having its horn sheared off. It turns out that the horn, which can be sold for a fortune on the open market, was removed by the team at Buffalo Dream Ranch in South Africa in order to render the rhino worthless to poachers. John Hume, the owner of the ranch, which is home to 1,500 rhinos, builds himself up as a savior of endangered species – rhinos numbered 500,000 in the early part of the 20th century and count for about 30,000 at the end of 2015. But, as conservationists angrily argue later in the film, Hume is no saint: He makes many millions from the horns he shears.

The entire film, directed by Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau, is riddled with similar ambiguities. We discover near the end of the film that Chris Moore, who claims to protect elephants against poachers in Zimbabwe, is also working with hunters. His rationale, that “poachers would shoot every last one” if not for his intervention, doesn’t ring false, exactly. But it does ring hollow. Grade: B+ (This movie is not rated.)