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What We're Reading: Another Consideration of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Winners

By David Schonauer   Tuesday December 1, 2020


Earlier this year we spotlighted the winners of the 2020 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Recently, Ellyn Kail of Feature Shoot took a deeper look at the winners of contest’s photojournalism category, which, as she notes, serves as “an urgent cry for action and highlighting the disastrous consequences of exploiting animals and the natural world.”

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year, produced by the Natural History Museum in London, has never shied away from painful images that highlight our precarious relationship with the natural world, but, Kail notes, this might have been the venerable contest’s most important ever.

“In 2020, the death toll for the novel coronavirus surpassed one million, sparking overdue conversations about the rise in zoonotic diseases and the dangers of global wildlife trade, the exploitation of animals, and the degradation of the natural environment. Wildlife trafficking is now the second biggest threat to species, following habitat destruction,” she writes.

The winner of the contest’s Wildlife Photojournalist Story Award was photographer and wildlife trade consultant Paul Hilton’s image of a young macaque tied to a cage at an animal market in Indonesia (at top).

“Early this year, after following news of the coronavirus outbreak, and recognizing the connection between the global wildlife trade and future pandemic threats, Hilton shared this photograph along with an urgent question: “When will it end?” Days later, China’s top legislature banned the trade of wildlife for consumption, though exemptions exist for non-food products, including research, fur, and medicinal uses and conservationists warn violations are widespread,” Kail notes.


Kail also spotlights the photojournalism category’s Single Image winner — Kirsten Luce‘s photo of what is believed to be the world’s only circus act with performing polar bears (above). The bears are fitted with metal muzzles and the trainer holds a metal rod. Though controversial, it is not illegal in Russia for these bears to perform, Luce says. The image, notes Kail, was part of a National Geographic story on wildlife tourism and the unseen suffering animals endure as part of attractions around the world.

Our relationship with wildlife takes many forms, and while it is easy to be charmed by images in the popular Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards — whose proceeds go to support conservation causes — it is important to spend time viewing the unflinching photojournalism of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest.

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