Grisly rhino shot wins top photography prize

Valuable: Rhino horn is worth more than gold in China and Vietnam. © NHM/Brent Stirton, 2017.

Can a photograph change the world? Yesterday this image Memorial to a Species won a major award. Rhino horns are believed by some to be a cure for cancer and high blood pressure.

A dead rhino lies with his face in the mud. Where his two majestic horns once were, now there remains only a gruesome mess of blood and tissue.

Poachers shot the black rhino bull in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve in South Africa, before hacking off his horns to be smuggled to China or Vietnam. Three rhinos are killed every day in southern Africa, to meet the demand coming from the Far East for their horns.

It is not the first time that a distressing image has captured our attention. The photo of Aylan Kurdi lying lifeless on a Greek beach prompted an outpouring of generosity as donations to refugee charities flooded in. Many think that it was the photo of Kurdi that prompted David Cameron to promise to take in more Syrian refugees.

For photographer Donna Ferrato there is virtually no limit to the power of images. “I believe that photographs have the power to change many things — change laws, change the minds of society, change people,” she says.

But war photojournalist Eros Hoagland thinks otherwise. “My pictures and the pictures of my colleagues, they don’t really change anything,” he argues. “You want to help people? Become a doctor and work in some poor neighbourhood.”

Can photos really change the world?

T-horny question

“Of course they can!” cry some. Just look at the impact the photo of Aylan Kurdi had — it prompted a complete turnaround in government policy. The triumph of the rhino photo in such a significant competition will be a turning point in how we humans treat nature.

“Photos on their own are not enough,” reply others. While they provide a powerful insight into atrocities that we could otherwise only imagine, it is politicians and lawmakers who bring about change. Governments need to take action against the illegal trade in rhino horns.

You Decide

  1. Will this photograph change the world?


  1. How does the picture of the rhino make you feel? Spend two minutes looking at it and thinking, then write 100 words in response to the image.

Some People Say...

“Photography cannot change the world, but it can show the world, especially when it changes.”

Marc Riboud, French photographer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Black rhinos are critically endangered. It was estimated in 2015 that only 5,000 remained in the wild.
What do we not know?
We do not know if we can save the rhino from extinction. Measures including harsher prison sentences for poachers and “poisoning” the horn of the rhino (so it is unsellable) have been suggested.

Word Watch

The market for rhino horn is driven by the idea in traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine that it can cure illnesses.
Aylan Kurdi
The three-year-old’s family were fleeing ISIS in Syria in 2015 when their boat sank in the Mediterranean.
The Swedish Red Cross received 14 times as many donations for Syrian refugees following the release of the photo of Aylan Kurdi.
Syrian refugees
Just a few days after the photo of Kurdi emerged in 2015, David Cameron promised to take in 20,000 more Syrian refugees by 2020.

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