African Wildlife Foundation uses photography to inspire the next generation of conservationists


Written by Rebecca Cairns, CNN

For the past 60 years, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has protected animals, restored lost habitats, and advocated for policy changes that benefit wildlife. Now the conservation organization is trying a new approach.

This year, AWF launched the first Benjamin Mkapa African Wildlife Photography Awards. Named after the former Tanzanian president and longtime AWF board member, the competition aims to reach a different audience.

Although photography competitions are not new, AWF hopes that the exhibition of the winning works will encourage Africans to take a more active role in conservation, said its CEO, Kaddu Sebunya. “Africans must take responsibility for the conservation of their heritage,” he said.

A global competition

Photographers of all ages and backgrounds, professionals and amateurs alike were invited to participate in the competition, resulting in nearly 9,000 entries from 50 countries around the world.

A jury, made up of photographers, conservationists, activists and safari guides, selected photos from 12 categories, including “Art in Nature”, “Coexistence and Conflict” and “Conservation Heroes”. “.

Last month, the category winners were announced at an awards ceremony at the National Museum in Nairobi, Kenya, along with four other winners.

Mércia Ângela, a Mozambican wildlife vet, is pictured here with Boogli, a baby female pangolin she rescued. Ângela raised the baby pangolin and released it back into the wild a few weeks after this photo, selected for the “Conservation Heroes” category, was taken by German photographer Jennifer Guyton. Credit: Jennifer Guyton / Mkapa Award

The “Grand Prix” went to Italian photographer Riccardo Marchegiani for his photo of a gelada baboon and her baby grazing in the valleys of the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia. “It’s not so much how beautiful the photo is, but (more about) the story it tells,” Sebunya said. Gelada populations are in decline due to habitat loss and AWF is working to protect the species through several community projects.

The winning image is one of 79 images selected for an exhibition, presented at the Nairobi National Museum by mid-January.

Put people in the picture

The “Conservation Hero” category had particular appeal to Kenyan conservation photographer Anthony Ochieng Onyango. A former environmentalist who has worked with local and international wildlife organizations, he quit his job in 2017 to devote himself to photography full time.

“I realized that there was a lack of communication (in curation) because most of what was released was data in scientific publications,” Onyango said, adding that the images are a simple way for them. people to connect to complex problems.

The Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Lake Victoria, Uganda, is home to 52 orphaned or rescued chimpanzees.  Kenyan conservation photographer Anthony Ochieng Onyango captured this image of one of the caregivers feeding the chimpanzees, selected for the "Conservation hero" Category.

The Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Lake Victoria, Uganda, is home to 52 orphaned or rescued chimpanzees. Kenyan conservation photographer Anthony Ochieng Onyango captured this image of one of the caregivers feeding the chimpanzees, selected for the ‘Conservation Hero’ category. Credit: Anthony Onyango / Mkapa Award

At first, Onyango struggled to find work and began to doubt his career development, but then received a phone call from the Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Ngamba Island in Uganda, asking him to photograph their rescued chimpanzees. . This mission helped him launch his new career and one of the photos he took, of a groom feeding chimpanzees, was shortlisted for the AWF Mkapa Awards.

“This particular image means a lot to me because I met these really inspiring caregivers and the one in the photo was so passionate about caring for chimpanzees,” Onyango said. He prefers to take pictures of people and animals together: “I feel like no one (in the photo), people just don’t identify with wildlife as easily,” he said.

Promote African voices

Although there were entries from 10 African countries in the AWF competition, Onyango was the only black African among the winners, and only one African photographer, Cathan Moore, 19, from South Africa, was among the winners. category winners.

There is a lack of opportunities for budding young photographers on the continent, Sebunya said. He added that AWF is looking for grants and partnerships to enable more Africans to participate next year, and that categories such as “African Wildlife Backyard” make nature photography competitions more accessible to those who want to participate. cannot afford the high park fees or purchase expensive camera equipment, allowing people to use any camera and photograph urban wildlife.

Australian photographer Buddhilini de Soyza captured a group of male cheetahs crossing the Talek River in the Maasai Mara, Kenya, when it was flooded during heavy rains in January 2020. He was shortlisted for the "African wildlife behavior" Category.

Australian photographer Buddhilini de Soyza captured a group of male cheetahs crossing the Talek River in the Maasai Mara, Kenya, when it was flooded during heavy rains in January 2020. It was shortlisted for the “Behavior of the African fauna “. Credit: Soyza / Mkapa Buddhilini Prize

Sebunya hopes the competition can open a dialogue about conservation – and why it’s so important to Africa’s future. Many people in Africa see conservation as something done by and for foreigners, Sebunya said. While praising the work of international NGOs, he stressed that it is vital that African voices are heard and that local people lead conservation efforts.

From January 2022, the photographic exhibition will travel across Africa, North America, Asia and Europe. “It’s our brand as Africans,” Sebunya said. “Through photography, we will show the rest of the world what Africa is.”


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