INTERVIEW

Canon’s Brent Stirton named Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017

Grand title winner 2017 (also winner of The Wildlife Photojournalist Award: Story category) is Canon Ambassador Brent Stirton with ‘Memorial to a Species’. The killers of this black rhino were probably from a local community. Entering the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park game reserve at night, they shot the bull using a silencer then hacked off its two horns. Shot on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens. © Brent Stirton

Beating almost 50,000 other entries, Canon Ambassador Brent Stirton has won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPOTY) 2017 competition with ‘Memorial to a Species’ – a heart-rending shot of a felled, de-horned black rhino, taken on his Canon EOS-1D X.

The WPOTY 2017 awards were dominated by Canon photographers, with a total of eight of 16 category-winning images shot on Canon cameras. Canon EOS 6D user Daniël Nelson won the second major award, Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017. His winning photograph and Brent’s are now on show with 99 other images selected by an international panel of judges at the Natural History Museum in London, creating a powerful panorama of the astounding diversity of life on Earth.

Daniël Nelson’s ‘The Good Life’, shot on a Canon EOS 6D, captures a charismatic young western lowland gorilla from the Republic of Congo, lounging on the forest floor while feeding on fleshy African breadfruit.
The grand title Young Photographer of the Year 2017 winner (also winner of the 15-17 years old category) is Daniël Nelson with ‘The Good Life’, shot on a Canon EOS 6D. He captured a charismatic young western lowland gorilla from the Republic of Congo lounging on the forest floor while feeding on fleshy African breadfruit. © Daniël Nelson

Brent Stirton has previously won numerous categories, but it’s the first time the well-known South African documentary photographer has claimed the grand title. Brent has produced extensive projects exploring subjects as diverse as male breast cancer, acid attacks in Bangladesh and orphaned gorillas in the Congo. But this year’s winning image was drawn from his second Rhino Wars series – a journey from the killing fields of South African nature reserves to Vietnamese back rooms where officials grind rhino horn for quack cure-alls.

The crime scene was one of more than 30 Brent shot while photographing the series.

Entering the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park game reserve at night, the killers shot the black rhino bull using a silencer. They hacked off the two horns and escaped before being discovered by the reserve’s patrol. The horns would have been sold to a middleman and smuggled out of South Africa, it’s expected via Mozambique, to China or Vietnam. The crime scene was one of more than 30 Brent shot while photographing the series.

Eilo Elvinger’s image ‘Polar Pas de Deux’ was shot on a Canon EOS-1D X and features a polar bear and her two-year-old cub licking a patch of snow soaked in leakage from a vessel’s kitchen.
Black and White category winner Eilo Elvinger’s image ‘Polar Pas de Deux’ was shot on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens. Anchored off Svalbard, in Arctic Norway, Eilo captured a polar bear and her two-year-old cub as they licked a patch of snow soaked in leakage from the vessel’s kitchen. “I was ashamed of our contribution to the immaculate landscape,” said Eilo. She framed her shot tightly, choosing black and white to “reflect the pollution as a shadow cast on the pristine environment.” © Eilo Elvinger

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

Gerry Pearce’s image, ‘The Incubator Bird’ features an Australian brush turkey piling on more insulation to raise the temperature of its ‘oven’ nest, where its eggs are incubating. It was shot on a Canon EOS 7D Mark II.
Behaviour: Birds category winner Gerry Pearce’s image, ‘The Incubator Bird’. Shot on a Canon EOS 7D Mark II with an EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens in Garigal National Park, Sydney. The Australian brush turkey is one of a handful of birds that incubate their eggs with an ‘oven’ – decayed organic matter in the mound that generates heat. To check the incubation temperature, the brush turkey stuck his head in and used heat sensors in his upper bill. Here he is piling on more insulation to raise the temperature. © Gerry Pearce

In its 53rd year, the competition saw photos on a range of subjects coming in from 92 countries. The 16 categories included Mammals, Birds, and Plants, as well as more general themes such as Urban, Details, Impressions, and Land.

Ashleigh Scully’s image features a female American red fox hunting in the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park, shot on a Canon EOS 7D Mark II.
‘Stuck In’ by 11-14 years old category winner Ashleigh Scully. This female American red fox was hunting in the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park. Ashleigh had her camera lens resting on a beanbag out of the car window. As the fox came close to the car, she crouched and then leapt high in the air before punching through the snow. Shot on a Canon EOS 7D Mark II with an EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens. © Ashleigh Scully

Though Brent’s grand title-winning image pulls no punches, many entries covered the lighter side of wildlife: the Netherlands’ Daniël Nelson’s winning photo of a young western lowland gorilla, ‘The Good Life’ (also winner of the 15-17 years old category), is a case in point.

Marcio Cabral’s ‘The Night Raider’ was shot on a Canon EOS 5DS R. Click beetle larvae living in the outer layers of the termite mounds flash their bioluminescent ‘headlights’ to lure prey – flying termites.
Animals in their Environment category winner Marcio Cabral’s ‘The Night Raider’ was shot on a Canon EOS 5DS R. For three seasons, Marcio had camped out in Brazil’s cerrado region, in Emas National Park, waiting for the right conditions to capture click beetle larvae. They live in termite mounds from where they flash their bioluminescent ‘headlights’ to lure prey – flying termites. Marcio was finally able to capture the phenomenon when a giant anteater arrived to extract the termites with its long, sticky tongue. © Marcio Cabral

Taken on his Canon EOS 6D in the Republic of Congo, the photo grabbed the judges’ attention for its subtlety as much as its intimacy. “This scene of a gorilla lounging on the forest floor is peaceful, a state of being we would wish for all these magnificent creatures,” said Daniel Beltrá, competition judge and previous grand title winner.

Daniël met the young gorilla, Caco, in the forest of Odzala National Park in the Republic of Congo. A three‑hour trek through dense vegetation with skilled trackers led him to where the 16-strong Neptuno family was feeding, and to a close encounter with one of the few habituated groups of western lowland gorillas.

Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered, threatened by illegal hunting for bushmeat (facilitated by road networks created for logging and mineral mining industries), disease (notably the Ebola virus), loss of habitat (to mines and palm oil plantations), and the impact of climate change. In his compelling portrait of Caco – relaxed in his surroundings – Daniël captured the inextricable similarity between these wild apes and humans and the importance of the forest on which they depend.

Tony Wu’s image ‘Giant Gathering’, shot on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, features sperm whales mingled noisily off Sri Lanka’s northeast coast.
Behaviour: Mammals category winner Tony Wu’s image ‘Giant Gathering’, shot on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens. A congregation of sperm whales mingled noisily off Sri Lanka’s northeast coast. Two thirds of the intelligent, long-lived and gregarious sperm whale population was wiped out during the peak of industrialised whaling in the 20th century. This kind of major gathering could be “a sign that populations are recovering,” said Tony, who has spent 17 years studying and photographing sperm whales. © Tony Wu

The WPOTY 2017 winners were announced in London’s National History Museum on 20 October, where an exhibition of the winning photographs is being displayed until 28 May 2018, when it will then move around the UK before travelling to Spain, Canada, Australia, Germany, and the USA.

Dorin Bofan’s image ‘Tapestry of Life’ was shot on a Canon EOS 650D. Taken in Hamnøy in the Lofoten Islands, Norway, it features the moss-covered trunk of a veteran tree – a brief moment in a timeless landscape, cloaked in a tapestry of Arctic-alpine vegetation.
Plants and Fungi category winner Dorin Bofan’s image ‘Tapestry of Life’ was shot on a Canon EOS 650D with an EF 70-200mm f/4L USM lens in the Lofoten Islands, Norway. Dorin stood on the shore of a fjord, waiting for a break in the clouds to capture this view of a timeless landscape, cloaked in a tapestry of Arctic-alpine vegetation. © Dorin Bofan

Written by Beren Neale


Find out more about Brent Stirton’s camera of choice, the Canon EOS-1D X.

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