Tragic rhino photo wins Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017

Award-winning image of a shot and de-horned black rhino highlights wildlife crime. 

HLUHLUWE UMFOLOZI GAME RESERVE, KWAZULU NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA, 17 MAY 2016: A Black Rhino Bull is seen dead, poached for its horns less than 24 hours earlier at Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve, South Africa. It is suspected that the killers came from a local community approximately 5 kilometers away, entering the park illegally, shooting the rhino at a water hole with a high-powered, silenced hunting rifle. An autopsy and postmortem carried out by members of the KZN Ezemvelo later revealed that the large calibre bullet went straight through this rhino, causing massive tissue damage. It was noted that he did not die immediately but ran a short distance, fell to his knees and a coup de grace shot was administered to the head from close range. Black Rhino are the most endangered rhino, HluHluwe Umfolozi is one of the last repositories for these animals, with less than 3000 left in the wild today. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images Reportage for National Geographic Magazine.)

‘Memorial of a species’, the winning image from Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017 © Brent Stirton / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

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View all the winning images in our online gallery

A black rhino picture taken by photojournalist Brent Stirton has been awarded overall winner of Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017 (WPY) at a ceremony in London’s Natural History Museum (NHM).

‘Memorial to a Species’ was taken in South Africa’s Hlhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve and shows a black rhino that has been poached for its horn.

The image beat almost 50,000 entries from 92 countries to win the 53rd WPY competition.

“To make such a tragic scene almost majestic in its sculptural power deserves the highest award,” says judge Roz Kidman Cox.

“There is a rawness, but there is also great poignancy and therefore dignity in the fallen giant. It’s also symbolic of one of the most wasteful, cruel and unnecessary environmental crimes, one that needs to provoke the greatest public outcry.”

Black rhinos are a Critically Endangered species due to poaching and the illegal international trade in rhino horn.

There are five extant species of rhino – white and black (found in Africa), Indian, Javan, and Sumatran (found in southern Asia). Discover 12 amazing facts about rhinos you might not know.

“Brent’s image highlights the urgent need for humanity to protect our planet and the species we share it with,” says Sir Michael Dixon, director of NHM. 

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‘The good life’ Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017 (also winner of the 15-17 years old category) © Daniël Nelson (The Netherlands) / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017

Daniël Nelson’s image of a young western lowland gorilla in the Republic of Congo won Young WPY 2017, also announced at the ceremony.

“This intimate scene of a gorilla lounge on the forest floor is peaceful,” says judge Daniel Beltra, “a state of being we would wish for all these magnificent creatures.”

Launched in 1965, WPY was a competition held by Animals magazine – now BBC Wildlife Magazine.

The exhibition opens at the NHM on 20 October 2017 and runs until 28 May 2018. Click here to find out more.

WPY 2018 opens for entries on 23 October 2017.  

View the WPY finalist images in our online gallery

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Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine