Lumbering across Namibia’s Etosha National Park, a solitary black rhino (Diceros bicornis) 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.

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 black rhino practically vanishing into the backdrop of the ancient salt-pan lakebed. It was an unforgettable close encounter with a magnificent yet threatened animal. “My heart felt like it was going to explode from adrenaline,” Lavigne says. This photograph was selected as the Grand Prize winner of the California Academy of Sciences’ 2016 BigPicture photography competition.

Despite promising conservation efforts in recent decades, both black rhinos and white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum) now face an increasingly aggressive threat: poachers seeking to cash in on the illegal market for rhino horn.

Etosha National Park, Namibia

Maroesjka Lavigne

Maroesjka Lavigne is a Belgium-based photographer whose work has been shown in the Museum Saint Guislain in Ghent, Belgium, the Galerie Hug in Paris, and at the Fotomuseum Amsterdam (FOAM) Talent exhibition, among others. In 2014, she won the Emerging Talent competition of Lensculture with the series “You are More than Beautiful.” In 2015, she won the Harry Penningsprijs in Eindhoven, Netherlands, and in 2016, she won the Landscape Category at the Sony World Photography Awards. She loves photographing places where “you can imagine how the world must have been before there were people.” Her latest project, of which this image is a part, is called “Land of Nothingness.” It is currently on exhibition in New York’s Robert Mann Gallery.

Katie Jewett

Katie Jewett

Katie Jewett is a science writer, producer, and communications manager at the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions where she loves learning something new every day about our planet. Previously, she spent winters in the Colorado Rockies and summers living and working on the water.

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