Overview: The ongoing civil war in Syria has been covered extensively in the media, with the Free Syrian Army, Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the myriad of jihadi groups dominating the headlines. Meanwhile, one ethnic group, the Kurds, goes largely unmentioned as it tries to carve out its own state in the four countries where its people live: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. While they’ve had some success gaining autonomy in Iraq, Kurds in the Western-most tip of Syria are using the chaos of the civil war to gain their own little statelet. Thomas Morton goes to the frontline of the battle for a Kurdish state to follow the story of this forgotten group.
Believed to cure a spectrum of ailments from colds to cancers, rhino horn has been coveted in Eastern medicine for centuries. While demand curtailed in the wake of international efforts to curb the wildlife trade, there’s been a severe resurgence of rhino poaching recently, with killings increasing 5,000% over the past seven years. Pound-for pound, rhino horn now goes for more on the black market than gold or cocaine. Vikram Gandhi traces the trade from Southern Africa to Vietnam to understand this illicit phenomenon.
Expectations: First we head to war-torn Syria with young buck Thomas Morton. It is going to be great to see his first report of the season as he is a scrappy guy willing to get in there and fire off rapid fire questions on the subject and offer up his almost stream-of-consciousness banter that only he does. The sneak peek of this episode showed that he hasn’t varied off of that style. I’m looking forward to it.
I also expect a bit of an education. The forgotten tribe, as it were, called the Kurds are making news and standing up for their ways in an already fractured country. Exactly what separates them from the other peoples of the region is unclear. Their hopes, claims and military power, if of any consequence, are equally unknown. I expect Mr. Morton will, in the few short minutes he has clarify it all. I also hope for some clarification of where he is situated. Thomas seems, according to the preview for this episode, to be under fire. How dangerous a situation is he in to get this story? We will find out.
We will also find out the current status of the black rhinoceros population in heavily poached regions of Africa. Correspondent Vikram Ghandi has his first report for VICE with this one. I will take time to note his method and style of reporting and get back to you on it. I am sure, however, that he can hold his own. How well the black rhino fares is another story.
There are a lot of volatile and scary situations in the world but, as stated befo, I am a ‘nature boy’ so the mistreatment of animals gets me riled up quicker than some dilemmas of human strife. I don’t know at this point whether Vikram gets caught up in thwarting poachers in the process of harvesting horn or not or whether he is just tracing the contraband and money trail, but either way the exploiting of animals to feed the greed of Homo Sapiens isn’t going to sit well with me.
Gut Reaction: The first segment is A Syria of Their Own reported by correspondent Thomas Morton.
The segment’s guide certainly gave us the 101 on what is happening with the Kurdish people and their fight towards a country to call their own. Even their women take up arms and Morton’s snarky quips are quite evident as he acknowledges their place. But this report is not odd fun like Season One’s Laamb Wrestling; it is serious business as Thomas joins the fight.
The segment and the preview caused a bit of trickery that I want to note. This is the moment when our correspondent is tucked up against a wall talking about the village he is in and then BOOM a weapon rocks the air. You think he is in real danger, but he isn’t as a Kurd is just testing a weapon mounted on a vehicle nearby. It isn’t until a bit later when a bullet whizzes by does he realize that he is indeed on the front line and he has seen enough. He goes back across the Tigris River and the report ends. It ends with this viewer being duly informed about the fractious region and the Kurds, more Westernized than the rest of the people of the region, who are making a stand. To get the story Thomas Morton ventured deeper into a more dangerous situation than he ever did in Season One and that made for an exciting piece.
White Gold by correspondent Vikram Gandhi.
Vikram Gandhi (pictured in the blue shirt) has done documentary films and has also served as a producer of season one episodes of VICE. Now he goes in front of the camera and his first piece shows us the plight of the black rhinoceros. Vikram seems totally acclimated to the wilds of Africa where part of this report takes place. And since we already have seen clips of him amongst indigenous tribesmen from somewhere unknown at this point it is safe to say he feels comfortable going a bit primal. And if those are the type of stories he is drawn to then he makes a great addition to the onscreen team.
As I alluded to above his report didn’t sit well with me. I can respect a nation’s age old customs and a person’s desire for unorthodox medicine but I can’t abide the decimation of a species on this planet. The ire really hit the roof seeing the clip of the anesthetized rhino with his head hacked to a gory mess. Vikram’s approaching in this piece was not to talk exclusively about the poaching of these endangered animals but also trace the trail of the contraband horn. It is amazing how much rhino horn is worth and that there are those who will meet clandestinely to obtain it. If there were a way to devalue the horn, mere densely matted keratin, then the desire would hopefully drop off. The shearing off of horns, as seen in the report, is a better action than doing nothing and letting the animal go extinct. Only time will tell what happens.
In Conclusion: What we are left with are two reports about two different wars that are waging. I must admit, though sadly, that one shows hope while the other does not. The Kurds are fighting for their independency and are holding their own in their war. The rhino is just trying to live its existence and the people who act on their behalf are waging the war to keep them thriving. The Kurds have already prospered somewhat and have promise, but the herbivores of Africa are losing ground because of the huge bounty on their heads. Can’t we all, meaning all species of this Earth just get along?
There you go Thomas gave us even a clearer sense of what danger he was in. It was exciting TV to be sure. Thank you VICE and HBO and good luck Kurds!
Great questions were asked here about the trade of horn and its consumption. The only thing left for me to say on the matter is to reiterate Vikram by saying – (and yes, I’m shouting) THERE IS NO REASON TO OBTAIN OR CONSUME RHINO HORN!!
Other air dates remaining for this episode are 04.08 at midnight and 04.10 at 12:30am as well as onHBO2 and HBOGo. To conclude here is a Preview for Episode 5. Peace.