Friendly Rating: Older elementary age and up
Safety Rating: Several scenes of dead elephants and some blurred human stiffs
Quality Rating: Not only important information, it’s a great example of how to do advocacy journalism right
Special airs tonight on Discovery Channel at 8 p.m.
There is no question about it, Ivory Wars is advocacy journalism. This combined report from Discovery Channel and the BBC is clearly against the poaching of elephants for their ivory tusks. Nonetheless, it is one of the best examples of how to do advocacy journalism right that I’ve seen in a long time.
Just on a watchability level, it moves well. It tells its story clearly without harping on the same themes too much and it’s pretty comprehensive.
Safety-wise, you’ve got several pictures of dead and decaying elephants, plus a few blurred shots of human bodies. And there are several shots of people with guns, because, alas, the poachers are pretty well armed. You mostly see the ugly after-effects of the violence rather than the violence, itself.
But in terms of reporting on the issue, the film is pretty even-handed. It touches on the fact that most of the worst of the poaching, which has increased significantly in recent years after almost ending after the 1983 world-wide ban on ivory, happens in the poorest and most unstable African areas. Kind of hard to blame people for not thinking about the future of elephants when if they don’t get some money, they and their families won’t have a future.
And even though it’s the huge Chinese market that’s driving the recent spike, there’s even a talking head that points out that your average Chinese person doesn’t realize that the elephants are being killed for the tusks – in fact, most of them think that the tusks are like teeth that fall out and grow back.
There’s also the discussion that by making ivory illegal, it does drive up prices, which creates demand and makes the poaching more worth the risks. The problem seems to be that when a couple governments allowed for some legal ivory, it did increase the demand, as well. So, it’s a bit of a conundrum.
That is the one weakness of the film. There really doesn’t seem to be much that most of us can do about the problem, since most of it the problem is driven by forces completely outside ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to be aware of it. And since most children are interested in conservation and learning about these things, it is probably a worthwhile documentary for them to see. They may come up with a way to help that we grown ups haven’t thought of.