South African photojournalist Brent Stirton’s grisly image of a de-horned black rhinoceros, killed by poachers in South Africa’s Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park, won him Wildlife Photographer of the Year honors in the annual competition sponsored by the Natural History Museum, London. Stirton was honored Wednesday evening in a ceremony at the Natural History Museum. His image was chosen from among nearly 50,000 entries from 92 countries.
Stirton made the image as part of his project “Rhino Wars,” an undercover investigation for National Geographic into the black market for rhino horn, which is fueled by demand in Asia. “The horn is part of an ancient Asian medical system and today is seen as a curative for everything from Cancer to Kidney stones,” Stirton writes in a statement published on his website. “Essentially keratin, a mild alkaline substance identical to fingernails, the horn is ground down in grinding bowls and mixed with water. This is then ingested by the sick and the wealthy of Vietnam and China, the imbiber hoping for miracle cures, when in fact science shows us it has a placebo effect at best. The use of horn dates back over 2000 years but the recent economic rise of countries like China and Vietnam and the subsequent wealth of the new upper class has had disastrous effects on the world’s remaining rhino population.”
Jury chair Lewis Blackwell said of Stirton’s image: “There is a horrible intimacy to the photograph: it draws us in and invites us to explore our response and responsibility.”
“This shocking picture of an animal butchered for its horns is a call to action for us all,” added Natural History Museum Director, Sir Michael Dixon, in a statement.
Dutch photographer Daniël Nelson was named Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year for his image of a nine-year-old gorilla that lives in Odzala-Kokoua National Park, Republic of the Congo.
Now in its 27th year, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award includes an exhibition featuring the images of the winners and finalists, as well as a catalogue of the work. The exhibition opens at the Natural History Museum, London on October 20, and will continue through May 28, 2018 before touring internationally.
Past Wildlife Photographer of the Year winners include Daniel Beltrá, Paul Nicklen, Michael “Nick” Nichols and Tim Laman.
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