Kaziranga explores the battle between poachers and conservationists in Kaziranga Park, the last stronghold for the endangered Indian rhino. We see this world through the eyes of Uttam Saikia, a local journalist who is trying to use his community influence to reform poachers.
‘Kaziranga’ is a powerful portrayal of how human empathy is an effective strategy for reforming rhino poachers. It shows us how a single person’s compassion and actions can help break the cycles of violence that ensnare our most majestic wildlife and a region’s most economically-vulnerable people.”
Festival Director, Portland EcoFilm Festival
‘Kaziranga’ is a hopeful film about despicable violence against wild Indian Rhinoceroses being killed by poor men hungry for a few dollars for their horns. This sort of practice is devastating animal populations around the world. Filmmaker Mariah Wilson finds hope for the animals in that men who once killed the rhinos have been recruited and trained to protect them now. We can only hope that this approach is applied on a large enough scale to save these and other species around the world.”
—Trish Riley, Cinema Verde Film Festival
Nestled in India’s northeastern Assam district, Kaziranga National Park contains the world’s highest density of the endangered Asian One-Horned rhino. But this troubled area, long plagued by civil unrest, is also ground zero for poaching and illegal trade of rhino horn. To help combat this, Kaziranga Park has become the poster child for a hard-line style of conservation that includes a harsh “shoot on sight” policy.
Yet even the threat of death isn’t discouraging poaching these days. 2014 slaughter numbers were the highest they’ve been in years, thanks to the tens of thousands of dollars that rhino horn now fetches on the black market. Kaziranga’s rhino population is in crisis.
Pained by watching the slaughter of this iconic creature in his own backyard, journalist Uttam Saikia decided to take action against poaching. He used his contacts to develop a network of informants that could provide park authorities with intelligence about planned hunts. He also used his trusted status in this community to act as a mediator between the parks department, and local poachers who are wishing to surrender their arms and return to mainstream society. One of his past successes has even gone on to become a park guard, now protecting the rhino that he used to hunt. But as hard as he works to reform poachers, Uttam worries that without alternate means of income that many of these impoverished villagers will just return to this profitable trade.
The effects of poaching reach far and wide in the animal kingdom, too. Many slaughtered rhinos have left behind young calves who will undoubtedly die, unless someone intervenes. A final focus of Kaziranga is the Center for Conservation and Wildlife Rehabilitation. This animal sanctuary takes in abandoned baby animals from around the park, oftentimes having been orphaned because their parent was killed. We learn the tragic story of one baby rhino that witnessed the murder of her mother.
Overall, Kaziranga will examine the various causes and effects of poaching in one small region of the world, in the hope of offering insight into the poaching epidemic that is sweeping the globe today. If something systemic doesn’t change soon – if the consciousness of those who consume endangered species products isn’t altered – then time will inevitably run out for species like the rhino.
Run time: 15 minutes
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For over ten years Mariah Wilson has produced content for PBS (Nature, History Detectives), National Geographic (Doomsday Preppers, Lockdown), A&E (Intervention), Animal Planet, Investigation Discovery (Hate in America), History Channel, Discovery, Weather Channel, MSNBC, VICE Media, Vocativ, and The Smithsonian Institution.
In 2009 she completed her first documentary Revealing Hate about the white supremacist movement in America. The film played at film festivals across the country and received a “Courageous Filmmaking” award at the 2010 Durango Film Festival. It was distributed by Cactus Three Films and Dark Hollow Films, and has aired on PBS, LINK TV, and Russia Today. In 2011 she completed Volunteer (Honolulu Film Award recipient) a film about eco-volunteering experiences in Uganda and Fiji that touch on worldwide poaching issues. It was distributed by Optimum TV and Dark Hollow Films and has aired on First HDTV.
She recently co-produced Andrew Berends’ film Madina’s Dream about conflict in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, which premiered at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival. Her most recent film is Kaziranga (Humane Society ACE Award/Grant) about the rhino poaching crisis in India. She is currently in production on Silent Forests (Telluride Mountainfilm Commitment Grant, Rogovy Fund recipient, Eastman Fund recipient, IFP Spotlight on Docs), about forest elephant poaching in central Africa.