Baylor Film and Digital Media alumna documents the rhino horn war in South Africa

By Tyler Bui | Staff Writer, Video by BrenShavia Jordan | Broadcast Reporter

Baylor film and digital media alumna Susan Scott returned to Baylor for a screening of her award-winning documentary, “STROOP: Journey into the Rhino Horn War.”

The documentary, produced by Susan Scott and Bonne de Bod, exposes the realities of the rhino poaching crisis.

Over the course of four years, Scott and de Bod traveled throughout South Africa and Asia to document the people involved in the illegal killing and trade of rhino horn and the people fighting to end the crisis.

Scott said the rhino poaching crisis is not only harmful to the animals, but to society as well.

“It’s a huge crisis because it’s not just about the animal; it’s affecting how nations actually respond to the crisis,” Scott said. “Wildlife trafficking is one of the largest illicit trades in the world—it’s transnational organized crime and it’s a huge problem because it brings [the crime] into society.”

De Bod said the high demand for rhino horn derives from old traditions in Asia. The horn can be found in many different forms and is used for a variety of purposes.

“The demand is really massive in Asia and it’s an ancient, old mindset,” de Bod said. “In Asia, it’s seen as a status symbol; they call it rhino horn gifting. A lot of government officials will gift each other pieces of rhino horn. It’s also used in traditional Chinese medicine to reduce fever in children and in combination with chemotherapy to treat cancer; they see it as a detoxifying agent.”

Scott said that they both felt a strong need to document this crisis and bring it into the public eye.

“I think it was definitely a calling from God for both of us to do this,” Scott said. “We feel very strongly about that we were not in control of what was happening. It was a plan far greater than our plan that we had for the film.”

Scott and de Bod quit their jobs and dedicated their entire lives to the production of the documentary during the four-year process.

“It was a long journey—we anticipated a six-month project, and it ended up taking four years,” de Bod said. “I think we were a bit naïve when we started filming because it’s just such a complicated problem and issue. We literally sold our homes, we moved in with our mothers and quit our jobs to make this film about the rhino poaching crisis. In the end it’s definitely worth it.”

Scott and de Bod worked under life-threatening conditions in order to fully illustrate the extent of the crisis. From shoot-outs between park rangers and rhino poachers to going undercover in the streets of Vietnam, they risked their own lives to protect the lives of the rhinos.

They spent time in Kruger National Park in South Africa, which contains a large amount of the rhino population that is left in the world. While they were accompanied by armed park rangers, Scott and de Bod were still vulnerable to the many dangers present in the park.

“You don’t know if you’re going to run into a poaching gang, wild lions or a black rhino that will charge at you,” Scott said. “It was a very dangerous setup. That was quite challenging. [The rangers] would also tell us that if something happened, there’s no communication. So if you need to, run behind a tree or get up a tree. You’ve got to be able to take care of yourself.”

Scott said the most dangerous part of the filming process was during their time in Southeast Asia, where they had to film illegally because of the strict laws in place.

“In Southeast Asia, we did not have filming permits. I was very nervous going into Southeast Asia and filming as a tourist because if we had been caught, we would have been deported or jailed,” Scott said.

They said they didn’t realize how dangerous conditions were until the filming process had ended.

“I don’t think we really thought about the risks involved [until] we had filmed everything and had gone back to South Africa,” de Bod said. “At that moment, all you want is that shot. You want to show the world what is really happening on the ground. You don’t even think about the risks.”

Scott worked undercover as an agent for de Bod, who portrayed a Dutch film star in order to gain access to the illegal trading in Asia.

“We filmed undercover in Asia illegally. We slipped in through Laos, then made our way as tourists to Hanoi, Vietnam and then to Hong Kong,” Scott said. “We really had to get into these underground back groups to face the illegal wildlife smugglers, and I think that’s when we started taking risks.”

The film documents the various characters involved in rhino poaching, including those who are working to save the rhinos. De Bod said the filming process took longer than anticipated because they had to gain the trust of the characters until they felt comfortable being filmed.

“We had to build relationships with the various role-players in the rhino industry: the rangers on the ground, the vets looking after injured rhinos, the rhino rehabilitators and the private rhino owners,” de Bod said. “That’s also why the film didn’t take six months, but four years because it is such a sensitive subject. In order for these characters to open up on camera, you have to build that trust; you have to make them feel safe and comfortable.”

De Bod said she hopes viewers will take action to help end the poaching crisis after watching the documentary.

“We are still losing three rhinos a day in Africa, one every eight hours, so we need to take action now,” de Bod said. “It’s a global effort—we can’t do it alone in South Africa; we need to put pressure on governments around the world. This is something we need to fight together.”

Scott, a graduate of the Baylor class of 1995, said she was happy to return to Baylor and that she thanked her professors for their guidance and wisdom.

Baylor Film and Digital Media professor Dr. Michael Korpi had Scott as a student during her time at Baylor, and said he hopes students can learn from her experiences and successes.

“I hope FDM students will look at this and go, ‘I could do this. Here’s a person like me, who sat in the same seats I sit in at class, and is now doing this. That could be me,’” Korpi said.