“When Lambs Become Lions” Weighs Ivory Against Kinship In This Intimate Tale of Brotherhood


In Director Jon Kasbe's objectively poignant behind-the-scenes look at ivory poaching in Kenya, the question asked of the audience is what would you do, if forced, to survive? Typically, any discussion revolving around the extinction of wildlife through their exploits is a "Nope, Not Okay" affair. Animals have feelings. Elephants have been known to mourn each other in death and can even cry. THEY CAN CRY. Any animal that can shed a tear ironically needs a gathering of human support by one nation, under PETA... to protect them from God's most diabolical species, cats!  I mean Man.

But what if the choice is feed your family or save an animal? What happens when more efforts are put into preserving wildlife over human life? In the Game of Poaching "When Lambs Become Lions" focuses attention on the real players, the rangers and the poachers, of the ivory trade world burdened with extenuating circumstances, moral ambiguity, the black market, and a search for pride.

"X" Marks The Spot

Without too much backstory, the camera aimlessly follows "X" with a cellphone glued to the side of his face making promises. They sound like the type of promises better left kept given the alternative. He always has a cig but you never see him beating the pack. His clothes look imported and important. It doesn't take much to learn the only things about him anyone should trust are his eyes. They are cold but honest. Poaching isn't the sport for him. He's not about killing elephants because it's morally messy, yet proudly admits he's got a guy for that named Lukas.

The real sport for him is in moving the product across itchy palms, building trust, and having respeckt put on his name. The coolest part of playing the villain is convincing the world you're not with tongue in cheek. Ultimately, elephants mean money and X gotta eat.

A Two-Man Game

Early on, the documentary throws a curve ball when it introduces Asan, a ranger who hunts poachers. A ranger who hunts poachers but hasn't been paid in months. A ranger who hunts poachers, hasn't been paid in months, and X is his cousin. It's pretty obvious where this story is going. Asan has a family but struggles with his patriarchal responsibilities. The two share a kinship that more often is used to X's benefit in manipulating his cousin. It's a two-man game where X controls all the pieces on the board while Asan stews in his own impotence.

Working through his many frustrations, Asan starts to lash out and take risks that could jeopardize his life. He's blinded by X's careless ego which has committed X to deliverables he can't produce.  It's your basic the-grass-isnt-always-greener situation.  So, when having a hard head makes for a soft ass both end up at a crossroads.

In Conclusion

It's depressing. It's enduring. It's eye opening. It wants discussion about people deserving to be valued at more than our own ideas of their discernible worth.

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