An image of a pensive mountain gorilla with bright orange eyes has won the top prize at the 2022 Benjamin Mkapa African Wildlife Photography Awards.
The photo, taken by US photographer Michelle Kranz, was praised for capturing the monkey’s emotion at a ceremony held at the National Museum in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
Launched by the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) in 2021, the annual award is named after the late President of Tanzania, who devoted much of his time to conservation education in Africa and was a member of the AWF board. It aims not only to show the work of photographers, but also to make African wildlife known to the whole world.
“We hope to take Africa to the world and take African heritage to the rest of Africa,” said AWF CEO Kaddu Sebunya.
He was also very impressed by how much the competition has grown since its first edition, with almost 10,000 entries from around 60 countries. These were awarded by a jury to the winners of 12 categories, including “Art in Nature” and “Conflict and Coexistence”, as well as the “Grand Prize”.
Paul Mckenzie captures the extraordinary appearance of flamingos at Lake Solai, Kenya. Credit: Paul Mckenzie/Mkapa Awards
“An educational program”
AWF’s primary mission is to ensure that wildlife and wildlife thrive in modern Africa through a variety of conservation and community programs. But there are some challenges that the organization has identified to achieve this goal. For Sebunya, the main obstacle is “limited African leadership and ownership in the conservation sector”.
For many Africans, nature is not just something to look at and admire, he said: “When people here see elephants, they see them destroying their crops and killing people.” One benefit of the photography awards is to show African animals and nature in a different, positive light. Last year, the photo gallery toured several African countries, and AWF received a positive response from local people. “It’s more than a picture, it’s an educational program,” Sebunya said.
He was also pleased to see many more Africans participating in this year’s competition, although he would have liked more participation from the continent’s younger generation. To this end, the AWF is working to improve access to game parks and camera equipment for young people, so that more will have the means to participate in the competition in the future.
But the benefits of the Benjamin Mkapa African Wildlife Photography Awards are two-fold: it not only showcases African wildlife to the people who live there, but also to the world population. According to Sebunya, the competition helps spark international discussions on conservation, tourism and promoting donations.
The next generation
One image, which won this year’s “Creative Digital” category, shows an orphaned baby pangolin curled open in the palms of its keeper. South African photographer Prelena Soma Owen said her goal with the photo was to shed light on endangered species.
Growing up under apartheid, Soma Owen was not allowed to visit amusement parks as a child. Now he wants to show people, especially children, harsh images of African wildlife. “Many children in Africa don’t have the funds or opportunity to go to game parks and see animals up close, which is why photography is so important,” he said, adding that the younger generation will be vital to conservation. 40% of the continent is 15 years old or younger.
A three-month-old orphaned white pangolin is photographed during its morning feeding at an animal shelter in Lagos, Nigeria. Credit: Prelena Soma Owen/Mkapa Awards
Soma Owen has volunteered teaching children to photograph wildlife and said she has seen first-hand the impact it can have. “In less than two months of classes, kids as young as eleven have changed the way they think about conservation,” and are bringing that knowledge back to their communities, she said.
He believes that photography is a more useful tool than statistics for these communities because it gives them something tangible that they can fully understand.
Changing the narrative
Kenyan photographer Anthony Ochieng Onyango won in the “Conservation Heroes” category with his tender image of an elephant trunk caressing the head of a ranger. He also believes that photography can have a positive impact on conservation by broadening the way people think about wildlife.
In a photo taken by Anthony Ochieng Onyango, a keeper cares for an orphaned elephant at the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in Kenya. Credit: Anthony Onyango/Mkapa Awards
“Most images of rangers in Africa are always with guns in their hands. I want to show the personal connection that rangers have with wildlife,” he said. “For me, rangers are my sisters, brothers, fathers and mothers, and they deserve a lot of respect for their support of wildlife.”
AWF aims to add new categories next year focusing on the impact of climate change on nature.