Orangutan 'stoically waits' for tourists in award-winning photograph 'See No Evil'

Orangutan sitting on a bench wearing shorts after a daily show.
The image "See No Evil" showing an orangutan waiting for tourists in Bangkok won the 2024 Environmental Photography Award competition. (Image credit: Aaron Gekoski/2024 Environmental Photography Award)

A heartbreaking photograph highlights the exploitation of a captive orangutan as it waits for a photo shoot with tourists after a show at a Bangkok zoo. 

The image, titled "See No Evil," was taken by photographer Aaron Gekoski and is the winner of the 2024 Environmental Photography Award competition, which is run by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. 

Orangutans at Safari World Bangkok take part in daily shows, where they dance in bikinis, ride bicycles and fight one another, Gekoski said in a statement emailed to Live Science. "After the shows, they stoically wait for tourists to take photos with them," he said. 

Gekoski said his winning image highlights abuses within the wildlife tourism industry. "Young orangutans are captured in the wild and their mothers are killed," he said. "They are trained using cruel methods, including physical violence and starvation. When they become too old, they are locked up in cages for the rest of their lives."

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There are three orangutan species living today: Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus), Sumatran (Pongo abelii) and Tapanuli (Pongo tapanuliensis). All are critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List. They face multiple threats, including deforestation, poaching and the illegal pet trade. Which species is in Gekoski's image is unknown.

Gekoski's image was chosen from more than 11,000 entries from 2,600 photographers.

"It captures one of the world's most intelligent animal species in a graphic composition that is emotionally charged to the point of obsession," Alex Mustard, chairman of the jury, said in the statement. "This photograph will live long in the minds of all who see it.".

In addition to being chosen as the overall winner, Gekoski's image won the Humanity versus Nature category of the competition. The runner-up was Alvaro Herrero López-Beltrán's photograph of a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) whose tail was deformed as a result of getting entangled in fishing gear off the coast of Mexico.

Daniel Valverde Fernández's image of a polar bear (Ursus maritimus) caught in a blizzard in Canada in 2022 won the Polar Wonders category, while an image of an argonaut (Argonauta hians) attached to a jellyfish taken by Magnus Lundgren won the Ocean Worlds category. 

Humpback whale underwater with a deformed tail.

Alvaro Herrero López-Beltrán's image of an entangled humpback whale was the runner-up in the Humanity versus Nature category.  (Image credit: Alvaro Herrero López-Beltrán/2024 Environmental Photography Award)

A polar bear in a blizzard.

Daniel Valverde Fernández's image of a polar bear caught in a blizzard won the Polar Wonders category. (Image credit: Daniel Valverde Fernández/2024 Environmental Photography Award)

Argonaut attached to a jellyfish.

Magnus Lundgren's photograph of an argonaut attached to a jellyfish won the Ocean Worlds category.  (Image credit: Magnus Lundgren/2024 Environmental Photography Award)
Hannah Osborne

Hannah Osborne is the planet Earth and animals editor at Live Science. Prior to Live Science, she worked for several years at Newsweek as the science editor. Before this she was science editor at International Business Times U.K. Hannah holds a master's in journalism from Goldsmith's, University of London.