Salt-Caked Black Rhino Is a Striking Apparition

Salt-caked black rhino

Maroesjka Lavigne /

Once thriving throughout sub-Saharan Africa, relentless hunting by European settlers reduced black rhino (Diceros bicornis) numbers dramatically – by the late 1960s they were gone from many countries and only about 70,000 remained in all of Africa. And then the 1970s came and the poaching began. By 1992, some 96 percent of black rhinos were lost to the desire for rhino horn. In 1993, the count was down to 2,475. The black rhino pictured here was photographed at Namibia’s Etosha National Park and is one of the 5,000 or so black rhinos that are slowly returning in numbers, thanks to conservation and anti-poaching efforts.

The image was taken by award-winning Belgium-based photographer Maroesjka Lavigne while traveling in Namibia working on a project called “Land of Nothingness" – a photographic study of plants and animals blending into their natural environments. While the black rhinoceros is mostly gray, and the white rhinoceros isn't white at all, the black rhino here is decidedly white – a ghostly apparition poignantly suited to the beleaguered history that has placed the creatures on the Critically Endangered list.

Many a rhino will roll in the mud and dust to fend against biting insects, but the salt from Etosha's iconic salt pans lends the creatures here a hauntingly beautiful dusting of chalky white. When Lavigne saw this lone black rhino becoming one with the ancient lakebed, she says, “My heart felt like it was going to explode from adrenaline.” It's the rare kind of scene that photographers dream of, and she rose to the occasion beautifully. The photograph won the Grand Prize at the California Academy of Sciences’ 2016 BigPicture photography competition.

Lavigne says that she loves photographing places where “you can imagine how the world must have been before there were people.” And this photo certainly does that – however, were there no people, there would likely be more than one rhino in the frame. Thank you to the California Academy of Sciences’ magazine bioGraphic for sharing this incredible image with us.