This blog post was published under the 2015 to 2024 Conservative government

Brent Stirton

Wildlife photographer

Guest blogger for FCDO Editorial

Part of Illegal wildlife trade

3rd May 2018

South African wildlife photographer on saving Africa’s rhinos

Remember that heart-wrenching picture that flashed round the world last year of the poached rhino with its horn roughly sawn off by the waterhole against South Africa’s grey skies?

South African photographer Brent Stirton won the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition last year with that tragic photo. He writes for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office here:

30 carcasses in 8 weeks

This image was part of a National Geographic investigation into a proposed rhino horn trade. Some aspects of this investigation were undercover.

HLUHLUWE UMFOLOZI GAME RESERVE, KWAZULU NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA: A Black Rhino Bull is seen dead, poached for its horns less than 24 hours earlier (Photo by Brent Stirton/Verbatim by Getty Images)

It was necessary for me to illustrate the consequences of poaching and this was the most emotionally resonant image of over 30 carcasses I saw in eight weeks. It’s one image in a photo-essay that attempts to depict the A-Z of this issue.

I do become angry about it

My job is to provide accurate information on this situation and to report on the work being done in this space. My feelings only serve to fuel my efforts. I don’t enjoy seeing the suffering of these animals and I do become angry about it.

On the ground 24/7

I have probably photographed over 100 dead rhinos and many live rhinos. I’ve had to run up a lot of trees to get away from territorial rhinos. Once I spent an entire day hiding in a euphorbia thorn bush to evade a black rhino in Namibia. These rhino are simply acting according to their instincts. Where there can be real danger is in exposing organised crime and its links to powerful individuals and government. The bottom line is that I come and go but the people I work with are on the ground 24/7 and increasingly their work is dangerous. Post-traumatic stress disorder is more and more common for frontline rangers.

A four man anti-poaching team permanently guarded the last remaining male Northern White Rhino “Sudan” on Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. He passed away leaving two females as the only Northern white rhinos remaining in the world. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Verbatim by Getty Images)

My interest in conservation

I saw rhinos from an early age. My interest in conservation developed later in life when I worked with conservationists reporting on what we are losing. It’s incomprehensible to me that humanity can stand by in apathy while we lose these magnificent species. I found that I could be useful in this space representing people who most often go underpaid and underappreciated.

People do care

I am fortunate to work for the best magazines in the world. My photos travel the globe and have been used to reinforce positive lobbying for the environment in many of the countries that I have worked in.  I have also been involved in many exhibitions which were seen by millions of people. I have seen time and time again that people do care about these issues but often feel impotent. I am very grateful that at this time I am able to speak to government and business about what is happening in the environment.

Have your say

What was your reaction to the photo? What more do you think should be done to help protect rhinos in the wild?

The UK will host a global conference on tackling the illegal wildlife trade in London in October.

8 comments on “South African wildlife photographer on saving Africa’s rhinos

  1. I stumbled across your article as I was looking for a particular UK FCO service. Horrifically sad. That magnificent creature murdered and mutilated. The penalties should be as severe as homicide and related accessory charges and countries should commit to harsh penalties for Ivory trade and enforcement funding. No doubt, as you point out, some very determined and well connected criminal syndicates are running this. All the while theses poor creature die alone and in agony.

    On a brighter note, while the passing of the last male White Rhino was a tragedy of the same trade, it is heart warming to see the frontline Rangers guarding the animal in such close personal protection. Dangerous job and I hope there are global efforts to fund their organisation.

  2. Thank you for your tireless efforts for rhino conservation. This photo struck a cord last year and yet again. I am changing my life/career to focus on rhino conservation and have written a poem to inspire others. I need photos from a photographer of your caliber and experience with rhinos, to help present my poem with impact. Please contact me if you are interested Brent. It is called…Save Face for Rhinos ?

  3. My heart clenches each time I see this tragic image. I am admin of a conservation craft group of 3000 people around the world. We care for the orphans through crafted blankets and raise funds for orphan rescue and milk funds. We also support APU units and K9 units. Keep going!!

  4. These pictures disgust! me how can any human being think they have the right to do what they do to these beautiful creatures. Governments across the world should join forces and stop this mindless slaughter.

  5. Incredibly tragic. We need to wake up, as it is often the case we don’t realize what we have until it’s gone.

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