Filmmakers behind the new Mad Max movie have found themselves at the centre of an environmental dispute in Namibia after local activists accused them of "destroying" fragile ecosystems in the country's desert while shooting there last year .
The cast and crew of Mad Max: Fury Road, directed by George Miller and starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, have been accused of causing serious damage to the landscape and plant and animal life in the oldest desert in the world, the Namib Desert, where they spent six months filming the post-apocalyptic sequel.
The shoot took place in an area recently named the Dorob National Park, and eco-activists claim the use of vehicles on land previously untouched by cars has left tracks all over the ancient sand.
Crewmembers reportedly tried to level out the tracks by dragging large nets across the ground, but their actions allegedly caused small plants, such as the "rare lithops cactus" to be ripped out of the sand, and endangered certain species of reptiles, including lizards, geckos and chameleons.
Officials at the Namibian Coast Conservation and Management (NACOMA) watchdog commissioned ecological scientist Joh Henschel to compile a report on activists' allegations, and his findings were submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism in December (12).
He tells the AFP, "NACOMA contracted me as consultant about the tracks left by the Mad Max film crew and yes - some areas in the Namib Desert were destroyed. In one area a ploughing device was used."
However, the Ministry's permanent secretary, Simeon Negumbo, has disagreed with Henschel's report, insisting filmmakers did a good job of restoring the area to the officials' satisfaction.
Negumbo says, "The experienced, dedicated team used tried and tested methods like vehicle and hand-dragged fishing nets, tyres, brooms, chains, ropes and leaf blowers, which worked perfectly in the area."
Bosses at the Namibia Film Commission (NFC), who welcomed the media attention that came with the Mad Max sequel shoot, have also defended Miller and his crew in a full page advertisement in state-owned newspaper, New Era, in which they rejected the allegations "in the strongest terms".
Ironically, Miller moved production to the Namibian desert from a drought-affected area in Australia after unexpected heavy rainfall turned the landscape around the town of Broken Hill into a blossoming field of wildflowers.