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Photography Competition Transports Viewers to Africa

African Bush Elephant and Cattle Egrets

It’s hard not to be transported when you encounter a photo like the one above, of an elephant in the early morning haze.

You can imagine being there, holding your breath in awe as the elephant shakes its head and two cattle egrets take flight around its big body. The sky is limitless; the savanna stretches on for miles. Despite the vastness of the environment, all is still. The only noise you hear is that of the elephant’s muffled footsteps in the grass.

Such is the power of Africa—and the power of photography—that one shot so aptly captures a moment that conveys you to a far-away scene. And that is why AWF is the proud sponsor of the “African Wildlife” category in the Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards competition.

Photos such as this allow even those people who have never been to the continent to understand the splendor of Africa’s natural world and, hopefully, be moved enough to act to save it.

Feel the impact in person

Until September 2017, you can view this year’s winning images, other highly honored selections and an HD video that accompanies the more than 80 prints on display. All it takes is a visit to the special exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

And you, too, have a chance at hanging your own images up on the walls of the Smithsonian: Simply submit your best safari or other nature images to the next awards competition, and see how you fare! (Visit to get started).

Past winners

2015 was Nature’s Best Photography’s 20-year anniversary. Not surprisingly, over the course of the two-decade competition, a large percentage of the best of the best were taken—where else?—in Africa.

If you can’t make it to the 2016 exhibit, you can still get a taste of the powerful imagery that makes up Nature’s Best Photography. Just keep scrolling to see selections from last year’s “African Wildlife” category, as well as some grand prize photos from past years, below.

African Bush Elephant and Cattle Egrets

African Bush Elephant and Cattle Egrets, 2015 “African Wildlife” Winner
Amboseli National Park, Kenya
By Stuart Porter

Born and raised in Africa, Stuart Porter has lived in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia. He earned his B.A. in wildlife photography at Blackpool and the Fylde College in the United Kingdom. Combining his two passions—wildlife and photography—helped him achieve a long-held dream of operating his own photographic safari tour company. Porter is co-owner of Wild4 African Photographic Safaris. He is a field guide with the Field Guide Association of Southern Africa and a tourist guide accredited by the Tourism, Hospitality and Sport Education and Training Authority.

Of his winning entry, Porter says: “We encountered a blanket of haze and through this misty curtain, we could make out two bulls feeding. I focused on one that had the rising sunlight behind him. A pair of cattle egrets perched on him as he fed. Without warning, the elephant began to lie down, startling the birds and causing one to take flight. It was thrilling to witness such an event.”


Mandrill, 2015 “African Wildlife” Highly Honored
Lekedi, Gabon
By Simone Sbaraglia

“I was always fascinated by the amazing colors of the male mandrill. For three weeks, I was in Gabon trying to capture them in an abstract way, emphasizing their lines and colors. The environment that mandrills live in is incredibly tough, with very thick forest full of mud, mosquitoes and bugs, making it very difficult to track them.”

African Elephant Calf

African Elephant Calf, 2015 “African Wildlife” Highly Honored
Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
By Margot Raggett

“One evening a herd of elephants was making their way across the plains of the Maasai Mara. Taking a closer look, we noticed a tiny calf, just a few weeks old. Finding it difficult to keep walking, the calf would lean against its mother’s legs. It seemed to be begging her to stop and was nearly falling asleep.”


Lioness, 2008 Grand Prize
Okavango Delta, Botswana
By Brian Hampton

“To join other lions tracking a herd of buffalo, this lion needed to cross a treacherous crocodile-infested river. Hearing calls from her pride, she exploded into a run, splashing through the shallow water. I huddled motionless as the lion came right toward me and then passed by, hurrying to rejoin her pride.”

Mountain Gorilla

Mountain Gorilla, 2009 Grand Prize
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
By John Reiter

 “My guide and I had climbed for hours up a 10,000-ft.-high volcanic mountain through thick bamboo rainforests until we found ourselves within 20 ft. of a family of gorillas in their natural habitat. Observing this nearly 500-pound, chest-beating silverback was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life.”

Craig R. Sholley
About the Author

Craig's experiences with wildlife and conservation began in 1973 as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zaire. As an L.S.B. Leakey grant researcher in the late 1970s, Craig studied mountain gorillas with Dian Fossey and, in 1987, became director of Rwanda's Mountain Gorilla Project, of which African Wildlife Foundation was a sponsor. Craig has acted as Scientific Advisor for the award-winning IMAX film, "Mountain Gorilla," and with National Geographic, he surveyed the conservation status of mountain gorillas in the aftermath of Rwanda's civil war. Craig’s direct involvement with AWF began as a Senior Associate and member of AWF’s Board of Trustees. He became a full-time employee of AWF in 2001 and now serves as the organization's Senior Vice President.

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