Heartbreak, triumph, wonder: The decade’s 5 most popular photos

The top five images of the decade, chosen by our viewers

LAIKIPIA COUNTY, Kenya “This image took 10 years to make,” says Montana-based photographer Ami Vitale, who first encountered the northern white rhino named Sudan in 2009. One of only eight males then alive, Sudan was in a Czech zoo; last-ditch efforts to save the species included a plan to airlift Sudan and three other rhinos to a conservancy in Kenya. All four of the great animals survived the relocation, although when Vitale learned in 2018 that Sudan was dying, at 45, she knew he was now the last remaining male. At Ol Pejeta Conservancy she watched Joseph Wachira, one of Sudan’s protectors, lean in to offer Sudan one final ear rub. “This is not just a story to me,” Vitale says. “Poaching is not slowing down. We are witnessing extinction, right now, on our watch.”
Photograph by Ami Vitale

National Geographic photographers have taken more than 21 million images during the past decade as part of our quest to take our print and digital readers on visual journeys to all corners of the world. As the 2010s drew to a close, our editors selected 15 images, by 14 photographers, that resonated the most with us during the past 10 years.

Then we asked you to pick your favorites by voting in an Instagram Story on @natgeo. Your top five selections reflect a broad range of our coverage, with an emphasis on the natural world: The heartbreak of a dying species of rhino. The amazing way in which a hummingbird feeds itself. A bear devouring a bison, and warding off other scavengers, on an iconic American landscape. Alex Honnold, 2,500 feet above the ground, during his stunning, rope-less climb up El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. And the face of a woman who had died, soon to be transplanted onto the face of another woman who wanted a second chance at life.

It’s always perilous to try to put together a “best of” list like this, and if you don’t see your favorites in the top five, check out the rest of our best of the decade list. And don’t forget to check out The best photos of 2019 and The best unpublished photos of 2019.

And as always, thanks for reading National Geographic.

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