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The African Wildlife Foundation is using photography to inspire the next generation of conservationists

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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 inaugural Benjamin Mkapa African Wildlife Photography Awards. The contest, named after the late President of Tanzania, a longtime AWF board member, aims to reach a different audience.

While photography competitions are nothing new, the AWF hopes the exhibition of the winning works will encourage Africans to play a more active role in conservation, said its director general, 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, were invited to enter the contest, resulting in almost 9,000 tickets from 50 countries around the world.

A jury 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 winners of the category were announced at an awards ceremony at the National Museum in Nairobi, Kenya, along with four additional winners.

Mercia Ângela, a Mozambican wildlife veterinarian, appears here with Boogli, a Cape pangolin female she rescued.  Angela raised the pangolin baby and released her back into the wild a few weeks after this prey, selected for the "Conservation Heroes" category, was taken by German photographer Jennifer Guyton.

Mercia Ângela, a Mozambican wildlife veterinarian, appears here with Boogli, a Cape pangolin female she rescued. Angela raised the pangolin baby and released her back into the wild a few weeks after this photograph, selected for the “Conservation Heroes” category, was taken by German photographer Jennifer Guyton. Credit: Premises Jennifer Guyton / Mkapa

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

The winning image is among a total of 79 selected for an exhibition, on display at the Nairobi National Museum from now until mid-January.

Put people in the picture

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

“I realized there was a communication gap (in conservation) because most of what was being communicated was data in scientific publications,” Onyango said, adding that the images are an easy way 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 Heroes" 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 Heroes” category. Credit: Anthony Onyango / Mkapa Award

At first, Onyango struggled to find work and began to doubt his professional career, but later received a phone call from the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Shrine in Uganda, asking him to photograph his rescued chimpanzees. This task helped him launch his new career and one of the photos he took, of a caretaker feeding chimpanzees, was selected 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 picture was very passionate about caring for chimpanzees,” Onyango said. He prefers to take pictures of people and animals together: “I feel like no people (pictured), people don’t relate to wildlife so easily,” he said.

Promotion of African voices

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

There is a lack of opportunities for aspiring young photographers on the continent, Sebunya said. He added that AWF is looking for grants and partnerships to allow more African people to participate next year, and that categories such as “African Wildlife Backyard” make nature photography contests more accessible to those who cannot afford fees. elevate the park or buy expensive camera equipment, allowing people to use any camera they have and photograph wildlife in urban settings.

Soyza Australian photographer Buddhilini captured a group of male cheetahs crossing the Talek River in the Masai Mara, Kenya, when it was flooded during heavy rain in January 2020. It was selected for the "Behavior of African fauna" category.

Australian photographer Buddhilini of Soyza captured a group of male cheetahs crossing the Talek River in the Maasai Mara, Kenya, when it was flooded during heavy rain in January 2020. It was selected for the “African Wildlife Behavior” category. . Credit: Soyhil / Mkapa Buddhilini Award

Sebunya hopes the competition can open a dialogue on conservation and why it is so important for 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.

Starting in January 2022, the photography exhibition will travel to Africa, North America, Asia and Europe. “This is our brand as Africans,” Sebunya said. “Through photography, we will show the rest of the world what Africa is.”

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