TV review: ‘Poaching Wars with

TV review: ‘Poaching Wars with Tom Hardy’ needs more facts, less sentiment

Best known for playing tough guys in Hollywood movies, English actor Tom Hardy takes on some real villains in the South African bush… sort of.

TV review: ‘Poaching Wars with

Tom Hardy investigates the trade in rhino horn and ivory in Sub-Saharan Africa

POACHING Wars With Tom Hardy owes a lot to one of SkyOne’s better commissions, Ross Kemp on Gangs, where the man who played a knucklehead on Eastenders for the best part of his career revealed himself to be an empathetic and insightful journalist. It set a high precedent for actors with delusions of heroism, but what was compelling about Ross Kemp was he exercised an amoral objectivity about the international nasties he infiltrated. It was gripping television.

The rapid extinction of rhinos from the African bush is subject to investigation by another macho actor, English Hollywood hunk Tom Hardy. The man who was unintelligible as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises is a little more articulate here, but ultimately unenlightening.

Kemp was, after all, married to the editor of The Sun. He probably picked up some tips about investigative journalism along the way; or at least, how to tap a phone call if he wanted to. Hardy is starting from scratch: part of the idea behind this show, and part of its downfall.

In 2004, 10 rhino were poached in South Africa. In 2012, 668 were killed. Earlier in August, the number of rhinos who died this year was recorded as 553. Extinction is a massive, and looming, threat, and one that a number of people Hardy meets are dedicating their lives to preventing.

Poaching opens up a Pandora’s Box of questions, but they are not answered sufficiently. One conservationist says that poachers are “equivalent to Navy Seals and SAS operatives,” with ties to what is effectively a global Mafia whose profits fund terrorism and people trafficking, and who even some South African government officials covertly support.

These are big accusations, and ones worth delving into, but the camera keeps rolling as more and more revelations about the pure nastiness and entrenched militia of poaching give way to shots of Hardy with babies and animals. There seems to be a conflict of interests between the producer who thought it should be a serious, hard-hitting documentary and some image-management guru who was hoping for an Ann Geddes calendar but with a twist: it’s in the bush.

The issue is a complex one: there is a divide between the rich, white farmers who keep rhinos and the poor, black poachers who kill them and sell their horns for thousands of rands. In their communities, it’s not condoned: the poacher is Robin Hood. It would have been interesting to see Hardy ask the people of the township he visits, who have only ever met one other white man before, what their thoughts are on poaching. Instead it’s a new calendar month: another sentimental shot of large man/small dog.

Rhino horn has a variety of uses: from interior d̩cor, to the burgeoning desire for Chinese medicine in the Asian markets, which was not drawn upon adequately in the documentary, but has increased in demand as these economies develop. Like ivory, it is an extremely valuable commodity and people die in the process of acquiring it Рand of stopping the acquisition of it.

Hardy takes a look at the attempts to stop poachers, from the armed employees of a rhino farm who track through the bush looking for the culprits, to the training of sniffer elephants, who can follow a trail of scent. Oddly, the practice of rehabilitating poachers, which has proved successful in neighbouring Zimbabwe and in India, was overlooked: one that has proved successful as the habits and skills of poachers can then be taught to conservationists.

The show is centred around what a nice man Hardy is and layers on sentimentality like a hefty dose of aftershave. More focus on the organisations he meets with, on the activists and farmers and charity workers he speaks to, rather than the Hollywood presenter, would have made this a much stronger programme.

In the second programme of the two-part documentary series, Tom visits Botswana, Mozambique and Tanzania to meet local conservationists.

Watch both episodes of Poaching Wars on ITV player: