A senior Getty Images photographer who has also worked for National Geographic magazine — took the image during an undercover investigation in August 2016 about illegal trade in rhino horns at South Africa’s Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park.
The poachers entered the reserve illegally, ambushed the endangered rhino at a waterhole, shot him dead with a silencer and dehorned him before fleeing. They are believed to be from the local community, the Museum’s description of the award-winning image ‘Memorial to a Species’ reads.
The South African photographer has witnessed more such scenes of environmental crimes and says he the his experiences “horrifying”.
“We’re losing a majority of animals on this planet incredibly fast. If more people are aware and if people stop considering animal products as a part of their lifestyles, this doesn’t have to happen,” Stirton told HT.
“The stark simplicity forces us to witness the brutal, tragic, stupid waste of a poacher’s work,” says Lewis Blackwell, Chair of the Museum’s jury, describing Stirton’s “poignant” image.
The number of rhinos poached for their horns in South Africa fell 10% in 2016 to 1,054, the second straight year of decline according to government data, conservationists say the levels remain alarming.
South Africa has more than 80% of the world’s rhino population with about 18,000 white rhinos and close to 2,000 black rhinos, which is why it has been at the frontline of the poaching crisis.