African Animals Pose, Battle, and Shine in Photo Contest

Inaugural competition highlights charging rhinos and photogenic wildebeest.

mountain gorilla baby

Zander Galli / Mkapa Awards

Battling white rhinos, an itty-bitty frog, and wildebeest that appear to line up for a portrait. These are the winning entries in the inaugural photo contest from the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), celebrating its 60th anniversary.

The Benjamin Mkapa African Wildlife Photography Awards are named in honor of the late former President of Tanzania. Mkapa was a conservation leader and one of the AWF's longest-serving board members.

Entries were received from nearly 9,000 entries from 50 countries worldwide, including 10 countries in Africa.

The Youth International Winner is "Mountain Gorilla," above, shot by Zander Galli, 15, of Miami. Galli took the photo in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. In 2018, AWF donated land to the government in Rwanda to increase habitat for gorillas next to the park. As ape populations have increased, tourism has helped give financial support to local residents.

Galli describes the winning image:

“While the adults of the Kwitonda gorilla family enjoyed a midday nap after a long bamboo foraging session, this barely one-month-old infant was playing on his mother’s chest. He relentlessly attempted to rouse the others of the group.” 

Speaking at the ceremonies in Nairobi, Kenya, to launch the anniversary celebration and announce the photo contest winners, AWF CEO Kaddu Sebunya said, “Through the Benjamin Mkapa African Wildlife Photography Awards, AWF is committed to finding, helping, and amplifying the authentic African voices advocating against the destruction of Africa’s natural wildlife heritage. We are dedicated to defining and refining Africa’s agendas for conservation and development, and to represent these voices—trumpet these voices loudly—around the world.”

The winning photos will be on display at the Nairobi National Museum through mid-January 2022 and will be featured in a traveling exhibition through Africa, North America, Asia, and Europe.

Here's a look at some of the other winners.

Grand Prize Winner

primate holding baby

Riccardo Marchegiani / Mkapa Awards


The grand prize winner is “Utopia," a gelada primate and baby photographed in the Simien Mountains, Ethiopia, by Riccardo Marchegiani of Ancona, Italy. Marchegiani describes his winning image:

“Hiking through the forest to reach the highest cliff, I was rewarded with this view of an unspoiled valley with a 600-meter (1,968-feet) precipice in the middle, multiple waterfalls on the edge of the cliffs, soft clouds wrapping the mountains, in a bright green field with yellow flowers. Standing perfectly still, I observed a gelada colony in this idyllic wilderness scene.” 

Coexistence and Conflict Winner

elephant orphans

James Lewin / Mkapa Awards

“Elephant Orphans of Reteti Elephant Sanctuary”

Orphan elephants at the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy, Samburu, Kenya, made the perfect subjects for James Lewin of Nanyuki, Kenya.

“A group of orphans from Reteti, the first community-owned rescue sanctuary in Africa, were led to this symbolic mural before being returned to the wild. Historically, this rock was known as a poachers’ hideout. Today it is a place where the community members, elders, visitors, and now orphans gather. Over a roughly 3-year stay at Reteti, the abandoned or injured baby elephants are nurtured and taught necessary skills before they can be released.” 

Conservation Heroes Winner

vet and pangolin

Jen Guyton / Mkapa Awards

"Mércia Angela, Wildlife Veterinarian and Pangolin"

A veterinarian and a pangolin posed for Jen Guyton of Mainz, Germany, in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique.

“Mozambican wildlife veterinarian, Mércia Angela, is pictured here on her daily walk with Boogli, a female pangolin confiscated as a 2.2 kg (4.8 lb) infant by Gorongosa’s law enforcement team. Mércia was one of Boogli’s primary caregivers, raising her to adulthood before her release back into the wild. The young conservationist’s passion and optimism gives me great hope in the efforts to protect and revive irreplaceable wildlife and wild lands of Africa.” 

African Wildlife at Risk Winner

white rhinos fighting

Ingrid Vekemans / Mkapa Awards

“White Rhinoceros”

Ingrid Vekemans of Wakkerzeel, Belgium, photographed these battling rhinos in the Solio Game Reserve, Mount Kenya, Kenya.

“Driving around the Solio Reserve, we spotted two rhinos looking at each other. One rhino had a long horn and the horn of the other one had been broken. Suddenly, the long-horned rhino charged, and as the battle went on, the other was shrieking and squealing. To capture the action, dust, blood, and fury of this battle of the giants, I used my 500mm lens. In the end, they stood facing each other for a long time until the long-horned one walked away, leaving the other battered and dazed.” 

Fragile Wilderness Winner 

waterfall and baobab tree

Anette Mossbacher / Mkapa Awards

“Waterfall and Baobab Tree” 

Patience was key for Anette Mossbacher of Bergdietikon, Switzerland, as she waited for the perfect shot in Ruacana Falls, Namibia.

“Arriving at this location on the northern border of Namibia, I was lucky that the waterfalls had water. Scouting for good angles to photograph the baobab with the falls flowing behind it, I climbed very steep cliffs while carrying my gear and tripod to this beautiful spot. My bloodied hands and knee and the three-hour wait in the heat for the best light were all worth it for this image.” 

African Wildlife Portraits Winner 

African savanna elephants

Kevin Dooley / Mkapa Awards

“African Savanna Elephants”

Kevin Dooley of Albuquerque, New Mexico, photographed these elephants in Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa.

“As a nature photographer, I witness many amazing scenes of African wildlife interactions, and adult elephants are some of the kindest and most expressive animals with their young. In this photo, a baby had popped out from under a group of elders to drink. They made space and were extremely careful not to step on the calf. When the adults lifted their trunks over the baby, I was able to compose this intimate portrait.” 

African Wildlife Behavior Winner 

cheetahs swimming

Buddhilini de Soyza / Mkapa Awards

“A Turbulent Swim” 

Buddhilini de Soyza of Sydney watched cheetahs as they crossed a roaring river in Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.

“Incessant rains in early 2020 caused the Talek River to flood. The Maasai elders had never seen conditions like this before. After searching for hours for a place to cross, a coalition of five male cheetahs suddenly jumped in and were carried downstream in the terrifyingly powerful currents. Watching as they were swept along, we were delighted when they made it to the other side. While we feel privileged to have witnessed this scene of survival, it is a reminder of the extreme weather caused by climate change.” 

African Wildlife Backyards Winner 

tiny frog in hands

Javier Lobón-Rovira / Mkapa Awards

“Hand in Hand With Conservation” 

Javier Lobón-Rovira of Madrid captured this image of a Doliot's bright-eyed frog in Madagascar.

“While I was on a scientific expedition to survey amphibians in Madagascar, a local farmer called our attention to the tiny green frog he held carefully in his hands. It is crucial for community members to understand the importance of each living creature around us. We must learn how to protect their biodiversity, and therefore, their future.” 

Art in Nature Winner

flamingos on mudflats, seen from the sky

Paul Mckenzie / Mkapa Awards


Paul Mckenzie of Hong Kong took this photo of lesser flamingos in Lake Natron, Tanzania. The lake area is a key breeding ground for hundreds of thousands of pink flamingoes, as well as many other species.

“Seen from a light aircraft with the doors removed on one side, the world below resembles a distant galaxy. This breath-taking view shows lesser flamingos on the mud flats of Lake Natron, where they gather to feed in the algae- and sediment-rich, shallow waters. The birds leave trails as they walk through the water on top of the thick, black mud.” 

Youth in Africa Winner


Cathan Moore / Mkapa Awards


Cathan Moore, 17, of Hoedspruit, South Africa, photographed these wildebeest in the Timbavati Nature Reserve in South Africa.

“On a scorcher of a day, I was sitting on the sizzling ground waiting for a family of blue wildebeest to migrate across the plains. Drenched in sweat and bombarded by flies, I was about to call it quits when the lead individual took the first steps out into the open, and the rest followed. To my amazement, they headed in my direction and lined up beautifully for this portrait.”  
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