Lumbering across Namibia’s Etosha National Park, a solitary white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) emerges from the vast, pastel landscape like an arid apparition. While it’s common for rhinos to wallow in mud and dust to ward off biting insects, the salt deposits that form in shallow depressions at Etosha paint the animals’ skin a ghostly hue. White rhinos nearly vanished entirely from sub-Saharan Africa in the 19th century, their numbers decimated by overzealous trophy hunting. By the late 1800s, they were thought to be extinct. But then, in 1895, 100 individuals were discovered in South Africa. This tiny population marked the beginning of a long but surprisingly successful conservation effort. A century later, white rhinos were re-introduced into Etosha National Park, and today, some 20,000 of these magnificent creatures roam the African savanna. Despite their recovery, rhinos now face an increasingly aggressive threat: poachers seeking to cash in on the illegal market for rhino horn.
As part of her “Land of Nothingness” project, photographer Maroesjka Lavigne traveled to Namibia in search of scenes in which plants and animals blend into their natural environment. There she encountered this lone white rhino practically vanishing into the backdrop of Etosha’s ancient salt-pan lakebed. This photograph was selected as the Grand Prize winner of the California Academy of Sciences’ 2016 BigPicture photography competition.