Plight of rhinos in the lens

Nandi and Storm, are warmed by infrared lamps, as they guzzle the milk that carer Axel Tarifa has prepared for their 2am feed.

The world’s top photographic competition, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition, held annually in London, announced this year’s winners, chosen from 45 000 entries from photographers from around the world, with only 100 images making the final selection.

South African film director Susan Scott was a recipient of one of those 100 awards, for her image of two black rhino calves orphaned by rhino poaching in KwaZulu Natal, which she took while filming at an undisclosed orphanage for her film STROOP – journey into the rhino horn war.

The documentary, four years in the making, was screened in the US to critical acclaim, winning awards at major film festivals such as the San Francisco Green Film Festival and the San Diego International Film Festival. Describing the lead-up to the shot, Susan says:

“When I followed Axel in to feed the black rhinos, I knew it was pitch black and that I could not light with a flash or a handheld light due to the strict conditions they had set up to reduce stress on the animals. So when he walked to where they had been sleeping under the lights to feed them, I was struck by how beautiful the moment looked and of course the black forms in the red light signifies so much.

“The red is unfortunately the colour of where they came from, red blood from the deaths of their mothers and black for their name, black rhinos, but also the human who represents the species who changed their lives.

“For Storm, the stress of losing his mother has stunted his growth – he’s actually older than Nandi, the larger, female calf.

“Black rhinos are critically endangered – as few as 4 000 may remain – due to poaching and the rising demand for rhino horn in China and Vietnam, for its supposed medicinal properties and now status.”

In South Africa, more than 1 000 rhinos, in particular white rhinos – estimated population less than 20 000 – are killed annually.

Nine months after this picture was taken, the orphanage was raided. Axel was assaulted, and two older white rhino orphans slaughtered. Nandi and Storm, their horns too small to be worth the trouble, were spared.

But the orphanage has had to close, and the babies have been moved to a secret location.