When Lambs Become Lions is a film about elephants.

Specifically, ivory poaching in Kenya.

But there aren't many elephants in the film. Instead it takes on the issue through two men: X, the small-time poacher fixer, who has the gift of the gab but doesn't get his hands dirty or bloody ("I don't like killing"), and his cousin, Asan, a paramilitary ranger who hasn’t been paid for two months.

The camera follows their different trajectories, into the bush in search of their respective prey; talking on the phone to Mr Big who buys and sells the tusks and in person to the officer who tells the rangers there's still no money to pay their salaries ("That's how it is"); and into their homes ("I do this because of my children").

They are on opposite sides of a war, yet the truth is that "Out here we are all poachers."

The lines become even more blurred when you realise that some of the rangers were once elephant hunters. And Asan is so worried about earning enough to look after his growing family that he is tempted into helping X, for a cut of the proceeds.

The outside world intrudes only through mobile phone conversations and a dramatic TV broadcast of President Uhuru Kenyatta presiding over the burning of $150 million worth of tusks and declaring that "for us ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants".

It's a taut, riveting film, more like drama than documentary – in fact, some of the scenes are so dramatically intimate it’s hard to believe they aren’t set up.  Poverty is pervasive, life is stark and the stakes are high: s ranger is shot dead in an ambush, and we see a spot where the rangers are said to tie poachers and feed them to crocodiles. Most of those involved are simply trying to put food on the table for their kids.

Director Jon Kasbe apparently immersed himself in the community for three years and it certainly pays off in terms of the sights and sounds he presents us with.

African Bull Bush Elephant, Maasai Mara

African Bull Bush Elephant, Maasai Mara

Image by Ray in Manila

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