Photojournalist Brent Stirton was the grand title winner for his image “Memorial to a species,” which shows a recently shot a de-horned black rhino in South Africa’s Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve.
Black rhinos are critically endangered due to poaching and the illegal trade of rhino horn around the globe.
The slain animal was “one of more than 30” the photographer saw while covering the story.
The killers of the rhino were likely from a local community but were “working to order,” according to the Natural History Museum in London, which is running the competition.
They entered the Reserve at night, the museum said, and shot the rhino using a silenced gun.
“Working fast, they hacked off the two horns and escaped before being discovered by the reserve’s patrol,” a statement said.
“The horns would have been sold to a middleman and smuggled out of South Africa, probably via Mozambique, to China or Vietnam. For the reserve, it was grim news, not least because this is where conservationists bred back from near extinction the subspecies that is now the pre-eminent target for poachers, the southern white rhino.”
Sir Machel Dixon, 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.
“This shocking picture of an animal butchered for its horns is a call to action for us all.”
The winning images in 16 categories were chosen out of submissions from both professional and amateur photographers which depicted “the incredible diversity of life on our planet, from displays of rarely seen animal behaviour to hidden underwater worlds” They were selected by a panel of industry professionals for their “originality, artistry, and technical capacity.”
Competition judge Roz Kidman Cox said: “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.
“It’s also symbolic of one of the most wasteful, cruel and unnecessary environmental crimes, one that needs to provoke the greatest public outcry.”
An exhibition showcasing Stirton’s image, along with 99 others selected by an international panel of judges, will run from October 20 to May 28 2018 at the Natural History Museum. It will tour across the UK and internationally to locations including Canada, Spain, the USA, Australia, and Germany.