Even with my somewhat prior interaction with the remaining northern white rhinos this year at Ol Pejeta, and even with me constantly following up with Fatu and Najin’s progress; nothing would have prepared me for Kifaru.
Vividly recounting the efforts to protect the last male northern white rhino in the world, Sudan, Kifaru tells a story of hope, faith, love, courage, despair and urgency all in one.
David Hambridge, producer of the documentary, accounts the efforts of James and JoJo, rangers at the Ol Pejeta conservancy to protect and care for Sudan till his last breath, and even then still continuing the fight to protect Fatu and Najin
Telling the story through following the daily lives of James and JoJo, including leaving their families for months at a time to stay in the wild, David Hambridge brings out the immense love the two rangers had for Sudan to the point where they even question if it is all worth it – and if we as humans even understand the kind of destruction we’ve left behind as a species – taking Kifaru from what I thought would be a conservation documentary to a heart breaking wake up call.
As JoJo and Jacob took up the task to care for Sudan, they understood his end was imminent.
As much as efforts to curb extinction in Kenya have been 100% fruitful, Sudan still couldn’t escape death because of his age. In the film, we see him struggle to get through the days, even when JoJo & Jacob did their best to cheer him up.
Then enters Ringo, a young male rhino who somehow brought life back to Sudan’s eyes. Almost instantly, the young Ringo breathes in energy back to the sanctuary, even to the rangers. At this point, Hambridge has shown us the normalcy of these heroes, the rangers, through shots of when they’re playing pool and eating together at the bonfire, taking time to visit their families and to a scene where Jacob is singing amazing grace to Sudan in Kikuyu as they apply wet mud on him to keep him cool.
We also see JoJo as the curious and goofy character as he tried to imitate and play with the rhinos and with his several attempts to fly his red kite.
Life seems pretty normal, until it’s not.
Ringo dies in the middle of the night and the rangers can tell how Sudan will be crushed by his demise.
But it’s not just Sudan who’s affected.
Jacob even goes to a shop that makes memorial plaques and stays there to make sure Ringo’s is done right showing a powerful and relatable emotional arc in the story.
Sudan takes a toll
Sudan’s behaviour also changed. He wants to sleep where Ringo slept and wanted to move around the same way Ringo made him move around.
Then we see it, we see him almost at his end 💔
The rangers at the sanctuary can see death knocking at his door and they even start asking themselves, if he goes, what will they be fighting for?
This was such a powerful scene in the film, especially if you have an idea of what they go through. These are people who spend most of their days in the wild, away from their families and civilization and literally put their lives on the line to protect wild animals. Animals that become part of them. Animals that leave a huge imprint in their lives.
We see Sudan go through his last days, suffering and bearing through the pain of his sores and wounds. We see the rangers losing hope as he loses his last breath. We see them a little bit empty as he is euthenised and almost can’t bear to watch as the scientists take samples of his blood and tissue in an effort to save his species through IVF
Jacob laments on how theirs is a burden given to them by the world. He says, If his death doesn’t bring any change to how we look at the way we treat wildlife and the environment and remaining species, then did he die in vain?
He goes on to ask why he feels like he’s sometimes fighting for something that seems so hopeless.
We will never fill the empiteness of Sudan’s death, but for future generations, including JoJo’s new born baby, we must also show that we can fight extinction.
My hope is that this tear-jerking film plays a key role in doing so.