Images from the 2022 Benjamin Mkapa Wildlife Photography Awards plainly reveal animals’ extraordinary humanity. A gorilla’s wisdom. The gentleness of an elephant. The community of wildebeest.
That’s easy to see.
Beneath the surface of each picture, no less clear when looking close, man’s inhumanity reveals itself.
Wantonness. Cruelty. Exploitation.
All of these animals are in danger from the most reckless predator the planet has ever known: man.
Be it poaching, habitat destruction or a dozen other extractive and exploitative behaviors which have caused wildlife populations to collapse around the globe, it increasingly feels like a miracle any of these wonderous creatures remain. Enjoy the miraculous while you can in Africa and through the winning entries of the 2nd Annual Benjamin Mkapa African Wildlife Photography Awards which can be seen at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach through June 4, 2023.
“When you look into the eyes of this beautiful silverback, you see a lot of yourself looking back,” Africa Wildlife Federation Senior Vice President Craig Sholley told Forbes.com of the grand prize-winning image (pictured below). “It represents an endangered species and a conservation success story. Mountain gorillas are the only great ape in the world whose population is increasing. This success story is a result of a four-decades effort orchestrated by non-governmental organizations like AWF in direct collaboration with the Rwandan government. The product of this work is one that benefits both wildlife and people.”
People and wildlife, connection, our shared fate comes through in another crowd pleaser from the competition, an animal keeper being caressed by an elephant’s trunk in an orphanage.
“This image portrays the importance of the work of Africans who have devoted their lives to the future of threatened wildlife,” Sholley said. “These are individuals who are passionate about conservation and in many cases put their lives on the line–protecting species from poachers and the illegal wildlife trade.”
The picture recalls one of the most famous and heartbreaking wildlife-human photographs ever taken, that of the last male white rhino with his keeper in 2018 moments before the animal died. An image not simply of death, but extinction. Forever death. They both know.
Africa comes to Palm Beach
Credit for bringing the exhibition from Nairobi, Kenya to Palm Beach goes to Wilber James, Trustee Emeritus of AWF and board member of The Society of the Four Arts, along with fellow AWF Trustee Payson Coleman. They approached Director of Programs at Four Arts Sofia Maduro about showing the photographs.
“Payson and I have been involved in African wildlife conservation for over 50 years and knew that a number of our friends in Palm Beach shared our enthusiasm for the preservation of the animals and habitat in Africa as well as the well-being of the people,” James told Forbes.com. “We felt that an exhibition of the Mkapa Awards at the Four Arts would be a powerful way to highlight the majesty of Africa’s animals and also educate the public about the challenges they face. Sofia was in complete agreement about the importance of the exhibition and felt that the Four Arts could also reach out to the schools in Palm Beach and West Palm Beach to invite students to tour the exhibition for a powerful learning experience.”
The competition was co-created by AWF and Nature’s Best Photography to celebrate AWF’s 60-year anniversary as the only African global conservation organization protecting wildlife and its ecosystems as an essential part of a modern and prosperous Africa.
“Craig Sholley and I are equally passionate about African wildlife and the creative skills our Mkapa Awards entrants have shared since its launch in 2021,” Steve Freligh, President and CEO of Nature’s Best Photography Fund, told Forbes.com. “These talented photographers, of all ages and backgrounds, are as interesting and diverse as the photographs they submit, delivering immediate and long-lasting impact that will motivate change.”
Forty-eight award-winning prints from the competition are on view.
“There are those photographs that immediately stop you in your tracks, but also ones where new perspectives are revealed as you examine their details,” Freligh said. “Each image shares an extraordinary moment in Africa, a single experience that may be enjoyed personally as well as collectively.”
The winning images were selected from over 9,500 entries representing 57 countries, chosen by a panel of judges including accomplished wildlife photographers, leading conservation professionals, highly regarded safari guides, and youth conservation activists.
“Through the art of photography and video, the primary goal was to attract, inspire, and involve photographers from Africa and around the world at all levels of camera experience so that they may share stories from the field and encourage new advocates for conservation change,” Sholley said. “Effectively, AWF wanted to ‘Bring Africa to the World, and the World to Africa.’”
H.E. Benjamin Mkapa (1938–2020) was president of Tanzania in east Africa, south of Kenya bordering the Indian Ocean, from 1995 to 2005. The astounding “Great Migration” begins in Tanzania.
More than a million wildebeest along with hundreds of thousands of zebra, topi and other gazelle start their annual journey in the Serengeti National Park creating the largest herd movement of animals on the planet. Over the course of the year, the animals move north and clockwise, up into Kenya and the Masai Mara National Reserve, back down through the Serengeti and then to Ngorongoro Conservation Area, famed for the Ngorongoro Crater.
“Mkapa began his career as a journalist, understanding the importance of educating the public on important conservation topics,” Sholly explains. “Today, Mkapa’s name remains widely respected for his legacy of principled leadership and protecting Africa’s wild heritage.”
As one example, during his time on AWF’s Board of Trustees, Mkapa played a critical role in the establishment of Manyara Ranch Conservancy in northern Tanzania, an important 45,000-acre wildlife corridor connecting several of the country’s national parks.
Throughout much of the 20th century, visitors to Africa went primarily to shoot animals, not pictures. Limited legal hunting on the continent persists, in part due to the United States’ continued allowance of trophy hunters to import animals killed in Africa.
Fortunately, photographic safaris have mostly replaced their bloodthirsty predecessors.
“During the launch of the Four Arts exhibition, attendees posed many questions about ‘organizing their first or next safari’ and how to get involved in helping to secure the future of the wildlife and wilderness areas they saw represented in the photos of the competition,” Sholley said. “My greatest thrill has been watching people’s reactions as they view the exhibition images for the first time. When the subject matter revolves around Africa’s iconic wildlife and remote wilderness areas, the impact is clear and visible.”
Africa: Closer than you Think
Americans, by and large, are daunted by the idea of travel to Africa. Many even frequent, life-long, world travelers from the States have never seen southern Africa with their own eyes. Never spent a morning game drive 10-feet from a feeding pride of lions. Never stared eye-to-eye with a cape buffalo.
Too far. Too expensive.
Once in a lifetime.
That needn’t be the case.
While there are undeniably super-expensive and difficult to reach locales and experiences such as the water safaris around the Okavango Delta in Botswana or gorilla trekking in Rwanda or Uganda, visiting Kruger National Park or Greater Kruger in South Africa via flight to Johannesburg and car or bus to the wildlife can accommodate many non-luxe budgets.
Kenya safaris and Tanzania safaris are good middle-ground choices with a non-stop flight from JFK airport in New York direct to Nairobi now an option, shortening travel time to east Africa dramatically.
Africa, particularly when traveling from the eastern half of the U.S., proves no more arduous to reach or expensive to enjoy than Hawai’i, Australia, Asia or India–oftentimes less so. And the rewards are unmatched.
As wonderful as the pictures are, they don’t compare to real thing.