Photojournalist Brent Stirton was an hour from the scene when the call came in to say that a black rhino bull had been shot in Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve, South Africa. The horns had been removed, the carcass left to rot. He raced over to arrive before the police, and was able to quickly set up some lighting and captures some photographs - being carefully to contaminate the scene for the imminent forensices team - of the remains of the animal. This year, the judges at the Natural History Museum choose the above photograph by Stirton out of nearly 50,000 entries as the Grand Title Winner for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017.
‘Rhino poaching has arrived at a point where it's a criminal enterprise, it's organised,’ reflects Stirton. ‘It's gone from being something that was about sustainable poaching, subsistence poaching – and the same is true with a lot of wildlife crime – we are seeing those kinds of poachers being pushed out by much more organised groups, because it's too valuable. This is about organised crime now, it's not about sustainable poaching.’
‘We are commodifying our world,’ he continues. ‘Everything will have a value, and who controls and defines that value is essentially defining our world. While the picture that we're talking about is a brutal image of a magnificent animal, it's much more a story about the legal process and the thinking behind commodification as we go forward.’
‘I applaud the Wildlife Photographer of the Year for choosing an image that is controversial. You walk around this exhibition, you will see dedication, you will see perseverance, you will see magnificence. Images that are very worthy winners everywhere. But we are moving into a state of crisis, and this image addresses that. I for one am very glad and very grateful that they would choose to honour an image like that.’
‘The bottom line is that people don't connect the dots, they don't understand that none of these things exist in isolation. If you child is sick in Vietnam, and there's a centuries-old mythology speaking to the value of rhino horn, or any other animal-based medicine, then you're going to do that. But really what's happening is that you're being exploited by people who know better.’
‘Brent’s image highlights the urgent need for humanity to protect our planet and the species we share it with,’ adds Sir Michael Dixon, Natural History Museum Director. ‘The black rhino offers a sombre and challenging counterpart to the story of “Hope” our blue whale. Like the critically endangered black rhinoceros, blue whales were once hunted to the brink of extinction, but humanity acted on a global scale to protect them. This shocking picture of an animal butchered for its horns is a call to action for us all.’
Daniël Nelson took the award for Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017 with hischarismatic portrait of a young western lowland gorilla from the Republic of Congo,lounging on the forest floor whilst feeding on fleshy African breadfruit.