The prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year award has been handed to a photojournalist who captured a criticially endangered black rhino lying dead with its horn cut off.
Brent Stirton’s “Memorial to a species” was taken on South Africa’s Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve and is one of thirty such scenes he captured as he covered the story of the animal’s decline.
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Black rhinos are now critically endangered due to hunting, with around 5,000 remaining in the wild. Once more numerous than the white rhino, the species has faced renewed poaching in recent years despite conservation efforts.
The animal is now largely confined to four countries – South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Kenya – after another one subspecies, the West African black rhino, became extinct in 2011.
Competition judge Roz Kidman Cox praised the image, saying: “To make such a tragic scene almost majestic in its sculptural power deserves the highest award. There is rawness, but there is also great poignancy and therefore dignity in the fallen giant.”
Sir Michael Dixon, the director of the Natural History Museum, said: “Brent’s image highlights the urgent need for humanity to protect our planet and the species we share it with.”
Stirton’s image beat almost 50,000 entries from 92 countries to take the prize, and will shown alongside 99 other picks at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, beginning on 20 October at the Natural History Museum in London.
The award for Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year was handed to Daniël Nelson, whose portrait of a young western lowland gorilla in the Republic of Congo showed the animal eating a breadfruit on the forest floor.
“This intimate scene of a gorilla lounging on the forest floor is peaceful, a state of being we would wish for all these magnificent creatures,” says Daniel Beltra, competition judge and previous grand title winner.
Next year’s competition opens for entries on 23 October.