Published: June 1, 2015 By

Melinda MacInnis

Saving the Rhinos

It was from a jeep on a 2008 game drive in Swaziland that Melinda MacInnis (MCreatWrit’97) saw her first wild rhinoceroses, a mother and calf.

“I got to really look into the eye of this mother,” says MacInnis, then a vacationing English teacher from Los Angeles. “I could see how truly beautiful they are and special in the world.”

It was a defining moment that changed her life. Appalled by the number of rhinos killed by poachers for the black market value of their horns, MacInnis decided to make a documentary, initially in her spare time, largely at her own expense and without any filmmaking experience. The Price, scheduled for release early next year, took her to 12 countries and earned her National Geographic 2014 Traveler of the Year honors.

“We call our film The Price not just because of the insane value put on rhino horns and ivory and pangolin [anteater] scales, but because the price of us not fixing these global problems is just as high,” says MacInnis.

Through its Traveler of the Year awards, National Geographic Traveler “celebrates individuals who travel with passion and purpose, have an exceptional story to tell, and represent a style of travel, motivation or method that can inform and inspire us all.”

“Melinda’s work to raise awareness of the existential threat to rhinos is tragically timely,” says George Stone, a National Geographic editor at large. “What she discovered changed her life, and her documentary has the potential to change how tons of other people think about conservation issues in general.”

Rhino horns are valued at $65,000 a kilogram on the black market, according to MacInnis. Largely due to poachers, the rhino population has shrunk to an estimated 25,000 from about 500,000 a century ago.

“I was so moved finding out that this really iconic creature was being slaughtered for such a tiny part of its body,” she says.

Poachers typically kill rhinos before taking their horns, but not always.

“It is unspeakable suffering as it bleeds to death without the front of its face,” says MacInnis. “It isn’t just unjust, it is unbelievably inhumane that this is happening.”

So she took action, recruiting cinematographer and fellow animal advocate John Mans (Film’89) and four other CU alumni as crew.

“The infrastructure and willingness to protect wildlife in Swaziland is strong, and hopefully with Melinda’s movie, it will be one of the rare stories that comes out of Africa with a happy ending,” says Mans. “I’m proud to have shed some light on their difficult task of saving Swazi wildlife.”

MacInnis hopes both to call attention to the rhino’s plight and to offer suggestions for how people can influence the way humans treat other animals.

“The rhino is a gatekeeper,” she says. “If we let the rhino disappear, what else are we going to let go? But if we come together internationally to save the rhino, then it’s a template for saving everything else.”

Photography by Angie Wilson