Over 5,000 rhinos were killed in South African game reserves between 2014 and 2018, and the death toll continues to rise as poachers rush to meet the surging demands of the horn trade. But rhinos aren't the only victims of the ongoing poaching crisis – this war, like all others, has a human cost. Behind the grisly headlines and government press releases are stories of men and women who have dedicated their lives to saving a species, as well as tales of desperation from those who turn to poaching in order to survive.

A new featurette from filmmaker Toby Wosskow gets to grips with the tensions and human battles related to wildlife crime and explores how poaching "tears apart communities and is driving a prehistoric species to the verge of extinction."

Wosskow was moved to create "Sides of a Horn" after a visit to South Africa in 2016 where he encountered a rhino on foot during a walking safari. "What struck me more than the animal’s vicious beauty was that this scene could have been taking place 50 million years ago or today. I was looking at a living, breathing time machine in a land that time forgot," he explains in a press release. Later that day, Wosskow learnt of the threat facing these animals and felt compelled to act.

"While there was a fair amount of international media coverage about the multi-billion-dollar illegal wildlife trade, nobody was talking much about the community members living near rhinos, the rangers who protect them, or those who had experience with the poaching trade."

The 17-minute short film centres around two family members – one, a wildlife ranger tasked with protecting rhinos, and his brother-in-law who turns to poaching in a desperate effort to save his sick wife. "Sides of a Horn" is based on true accounts and "explores how two people from the same level of poverty, the same community, and even the same family can end up on opposite sides of this war."

Wosskow set out to humanise the rhino poaching war and, without overt edification or graphic violence, he has achieved just that. "The poaching crisis is a complex issue and the conversation around it must go beyond simple right and wrong. By painting an unbiased portrait of this modern war and exposing both sides of the struggle, it is my hope that 'Sides of a Horn' will be a catalyst that inspires a greater discussion that can lead to positive change."

The film is produced by Sir Richard Branson and is supported by Virgin, WildAid, and the African Wildlife Foundation. The full film (embedded above) was released on YouTube this week following several months of screenings across the globe. 

Get a glimpse behind the scenes here:

Top header image: Matthew Rogers, Flickr