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Wildlife Photographer of the Year Winner Captures the Magic of Animal Rescue

Kelli Bender

The photo that won Jo-Anne McArthur the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award, speaks to anyone who has rescued an animal, whether it be a cat, dog or baby gorilla.

The winning shot, which beat out more than 50,000 others photos submitted to the National History Museum or London, shows a rescuer moving a orphaned baby gorilla named Pikin from her old animal sanctuary to a new, larger one full of fellow ape friends.

McArthur took the black-and-white photo in Cameroon while volunteering with the rescue group Ape Action Africa. According to the National History Museum of London, the photo was chosen by the public from a shortlist of 24 photos curated by the museum from over 50,000 entries submitted for the competition, now in its 53rd year.

Along with earning the title of People Choice Winner, McArthur also wins the honor of displaying the winning shot at the museum as part of its Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, which closes on May 28.

“I’m so thankful that this image resonated with people and I hope it might inspire us all to care a little bit more about animals. No act of compassion towards them is ever too small,” McArthur said in a statement. “I regularly document the cruelties animals endure at our hands, but sometimes I bear witness to stories of rescue, hope and redemption.”

Pikin the baby gorilla found herself in the middle of one of this “cruelties.” Gorilla poaching is widespread throughout Cameroon, with poachers killing rare lowland gorillas to sell their meat in country and abroad. Pikin was one of the countless victims of this cruel trade, left orphaned by poachers. She was later captured to be sold for her meat as well, but was luckily rescued by Ape Action Africa before that could happen.

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At first she lived in a smaller forest sanctuary, but after she grew, Ape Action Africa decided to move the little primate to a larger sanctuary where she could interact with other apes. Pikin was sedated before the trip but woke up partway through in the arms of her caregiver Appolinaire Ndohoudou. In a familar embrace, Pikin stayed calm through the rest of the ride to her new home.

Ndohoudou too knows what it is like to be forced out of your home and away from your family. He fled his home country of Chad due to a dangerous civil war and came to Cameroon, where he has been able to find happiness again by helping animals.

The photo McArthur took of their moment, might lead one to ask the question, popular in pet adoption circles, ‘Who rescued who?”

Unfortunately, Pikin will be under Ndohoudou and Ape Action Africa’s care for her entire life, because she was separated her true family at such a young age. While she will get to enjoy the safety of the sanctuary and its other ape inhabitants, she will never know true freedom.