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Kifaru: a feature documentary that explores the painful emptiness of extinction

Beyond the global headlines surrounding the precarious condition, and consequent death of ‘Sudan,’ the last male northern white rhino in existence, ‘Kifaru’ tells the moving story of Sudan’s looming death through the eyes of his primary caregivers. The feature, which has already won several illustrious film awards paints a stark picture of what it looks like when a species ceases to exist.



The world watched in communal sadness as the last male northern white rhino died from “age-related complications”. Sudan’s passing was difficult to contend with as it showed the dire need for conservancy coupled with the sobering knowledge that we as humans are the reason countless species are on the brink of extinction.

In his final years Sudan was transferred to the Ol Pejeta wildlife conservancy in central Kenya; along with his captive-raised daughter Najin and granddaughter Fatu; to protect him from poachers and care for him long enough for wildlife scientists to develop a method to clone his DNA. Unfortunately, Sudan died of old age before scientists could successfully intervene in the conservation of his species.

A documentary titled ‘Kifaru’, which is Kiswahili for ‘Rhino’ shows Sudan at the end of his life through the eyes of James Mwenda and Joseph Wachira the rangers of the conservancy who cared for him.

The films synopsis describes it as, “a feature-length documentary that follows the lives of two young, Kenyan recruits who join Ol Pejeta Conservancy’s rhino caretaker unit – a small group of rangers that protect and care for Sudan, the last male northern white rhino in the world. Spanning over the course of the caretakers first four years on the job, KIFARU allows viewers to intimately experience the joys and pitfalls of wildlife conservation first-hand through the eyes of these Kenyan rhino caretakers who witness extinction happening in real-time”.


In the trailer one of the caregivers eloquently sums up the ordeal saying, “It is a burden given to us by the world- to save what another man has destroyed”.

“We are the last men to walk with these animals”.

‘Sudan’, was the world’s last remaining male northern white rhino is seen at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a 90,000-acre conservancy in central Kenya. PHOTO / STUART PRICE.

Emmy nominated cinematographer and award-winning filmmaker, David Hambridge began filming KIFARU in May 2015 following a successful crowdfunding effort that he and producer Andrew Harrison Brown led.

The film’s team was given exclusive reign to document some of the most sensitive, and historical moments that surround the extinction of the northern white rhinos. They decided to show these moments by focusing on the livelihoods, and families that are attached to an animal teetering on the edge of extinction.

Hambridge told the Current‘s Anna Maria Tremonti that Sudan was “the ambassador for extinction”.

“He’ll always be that. He was just a giant, magnificent animal, and I think that there’s a lot of other species and a lot of other animals — flora and fauna — that we don’t … really realize, but they’re going extinct everyday too”.


Read: Disregard for Wildlife Conservancy in South Africa and Kenya

He also believes this loss should not only be experienced by the entire world, but it should be felt.

Something which was truly evident in a farewell Facebook post to Sudan at the time of his death by ranger Mwenda who said, “What I regret most, is whether my fellow humanity has learned from your existence. I tried as much to help them hear you through my thoughts and the lessons I learned through our personal day to day life,though still my voice has been small, I have testimonies that you have left an imprint in the hearts of many especially those I interacted with”.

Kifaru’s awards thus far include:

  • Full Frame Documentary Film Festival: Winner, Audience Award – Best Feature Documentary and Winner, Environmental Award Competition – sponsored by IFAW
  • SlamDance Film Festival: Winner, Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Documentary and Winner, Audience Award for Best Feature Documentary
  • HotDocs International Film Festival: Audience Award Top 20, Documentary Features and Winner, Top Film by Program – Animal Magnetism
  • Mountainfilm Festival: Winner, Moving Mountains Prize
  • American Documentary Film Festival: Winner, Special Jury Award for Best Feature Film
  • Riverrun International Film Festival: Winner, Audience Award for Best Feature Documentary and Winner, Special Jury Prize for Best Feature Documentary
  • Florida Film Festival: Winner, Audience Award for Best Feature Documentary
  • International Wildlife Film Festival: Winner, Best Conservation Film
  • Newport Beach Film Festival: Winner, Audience Award for Best Feature Documentary
  • Lighthouse International Film Festival: Winner, Jen Bryceland Award (Best Social and Environmental Documentary)
  • Mendocino Film Festival: Winner, Special Jury Award for Best Cinematography

Watch the trailer here: