Sad orangutan scoops top prize at prestigious environmental photo awards

 The winning picture taken by Aaron Gekoski depicts a an orangutan wearing shorts sitting on a bench looking sad. The image was taken in 2023 and highlights orangutans exploited by the tourism industry in Thailand.
The winning picture taken by Aaron Gekoski depicts a an orangutan wearing shorts sitting on a bench looking sad. The image was taken in 2023 and highlights orangutans exploited by the tourism industry in Thailand.

An exploited orangutan wearing a pair of shorts has won the main prize at this year's Environmental Photography Prize from the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation.

‘See No Evil’, taken by photojournalist and filmmaker Aaron Gekoski also won the ‘Humanity versus Nature’ category.

The six categories are: "Humanity versus Nature", "Change Makers: Reasons for Hope ", "Ocean Worlds", "Into the Forest", "Polar Wonders", the Public Award and the Students’ Choice Award.

An internationally renowned photographer specializing in human-animal conflicts, Gekoski has been traveling the world for over 15 years, reporting on subjects such as the illegal wildlife trade and deforestation, marine conservation, and animal tourism.

Speaking about his winning image, Gekoski said:  "At Safari World in Bangkok, orangutans have been used in shows for decades. Every day, they are forced to perform in front of an audience that pays to see them. After the shows, they stoically wait for tourists to take photos with them.

“Beneath the glittering exterior lies a dark world of illegal activity and animal abuse. The orangutans used in the shows are often stolen from the wild, smuggled across borders, and then trained using cruel methods.”

Runner up in the 'Ocean Worlds' category was Nataya Chonecadeedumrongkul with their image Barrel Sponge Symphony Orchestra. The image shows dancing prawns in a barrel sponge in Thailand
Runner up in the 'Ocean Worlds' category was Nataya Chonecadeedumrongkul with their image Barrel Sponge Symphony Orchestra. The image shows dancing prawns in a barrel sponge in Thailand

The story behind his image is a sad one. Orangutans share 97 percent of our DNA, and in 2004 more than 100 orangutans were confiscated from Safari World in Bangkok, Thailand, where this photo was taken.

They were found to have been illegally imported from Indonesia, however, a few years later the shows started up again. Baby orangutans are captured in the wild and their mothers killed, so they can be used in tourist attractions, and these intelligent and majestic animals then spend the rest of their lives in a cage, tortured into submission.

Now in its fourth year, the Foundation's Environmental Photography Award aims to become a benchmark event for wildlife and conservation photographers working to protect the planet.

Shaking Off The Snow by Daniel Valverde Fernández won in the category 'Polar Wonders'. The photograph depicts a polar bear in a blizzard in Canada, with the snow swirling around them
Shaking Off The Snow by Daniel Valverde Fernández won in the category 'Polar Wonders'. The photograph depicts a polar bear in a blizzard in Canada, with the snow swirling around them

All the winning photos will be on display at the Promenade du Larvotto in Monaco until July 30, after which they will go on an international tour.

Aaron Gekoski was unanimously voted the overall winner by the members of the jury, as well as the winner of the "Humanity versus Nature" and "Change Makers: Reasons for Hope" categories. He received a total grant of €7,000 ($7,500) and a trip to Ecuador to visit the SEK International University's research base in the Amazon rainforest.

The competition for the 2025 edition will be open on the Environmental Photography Award website from September 3 to November 3 2024.

Jaime Rojo won the 'Into The Forest' category with 'Explosion of Monarchs' in taken in fir forests in Mexico
Jaime Rojo won the 'Into The Forest' category with 'Explosion of Monarchs' in taken in fir forests in Mexico

If this has inspired you, take a look out our guide to the best cameras for wildlife photography.

We've also put together a guide to the best travel cameras, and the best lenses for bird photography.