Washington, D.C., November 2, 2023 — Wildlife photographer Steve Winter and journalist Sharon Guynup traveled to 32 U.S. states on a two-year investigation documenting the dangers captive tigers face in the tourism industry. The resulting 30-page National Geographic magazine feature was shared with members of Congress and ultimately led to the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act in December, 2022. To recognize the impact of their work, National Geographic Explorers Winter and Guynup will receive the Society’s 2024 Eliza Scidmore Award for Outstanding Storytelling.
The award –– named for the writer and photographer Eliza Scidmore, the first woman elected to the Society’s Board of Trustees in 1892 –– recognizes individuals who use immersive storytelling to make complex ideas, issues and information relevant and accessible.
“Storytelling is fundamental to our mission work at the Society because it raises awareness of critical issues, provides context, sparks dialogue, fosters empathy and moves people to act,” said Jill Tiefenthaler, CEO of the National Geographic Society. “Sharon and Steve’s compelling, evidence-based storytelling did just that. In illuminating the plight of tigers, they touched the hearts and minds of countless people — including lawmakers. We are proud to recognize these storytellers with this prestigious award.”
Raised in rural Indiana, Winter found his passion for photography after his father gifted him a camera for his seventh birthday. Since 1991, Winter has covered many subjects for National Geographic magazine, including Russia’s giant Kamchatka bears, tigers in Myanmar’s Hukawng Valley and life along Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River. His images of tigers, snow leopards and jaguars amongst others have informed conservation interventions around the world, and won accolades in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year, and Photojournalist of the Year and earned top honors for Nature Story in the World Press Photo competition.
“In producing this story, I wanted to document the cruel circumstances of tigers living in captivity in the U.S. — driven by the cub petting industry — and I wanted to illustrate the care these cats receive in true sanctuaries,” said Winter. “With my work, I want to share the beauty, secret behaviors, and the threats that face big cats, providing a behind-the-lens look into their lives as well as the people who live with them and help to protect them. My ultimate goal is to help save these magnificent animals and the ecosystems they inhabit.”
Guynup has covered wildlife, climate change, environmental health and pollution among other issues for over two decades. Some of her recent work has delved into poaching and wildlife crime — the lucrative, global, cartel-driven illegal wildlife trade. Throughout her career, Guynup has combined her writing and visual skills to produce feature stories and multimedia pieces for National Geographic, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other publications. She serves as a global fellow with the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program to speak publicly on these issues. Guynup co-founded the nonprofit Big Cat Voices with Winter, her partner in life and work, to focus on media and film projects that spark change.
“It is a great honor to receive this award, especially because Eliza pioneered the way for so many women in journalism,” said Guynup. “On our U.S. tiger story, we fought hard to document the widespread animal abuse of the lucrative cub petting business and I was overjoyed when the Big Cat Public Safety Act passed last December. Although great strides are needed to prevent wildlife trafficking across the globe, it makes me so incredibly happy knowing that many tigers used and abused in this industry are now well cared for in sanctuaries.”
Learn more about Winter and Guynup’s two-year investigation in their “Through the Lens” article featured in National Geographic magazine’s December print issue.
National Geographic Explorers Guynup and Winter will be honored as the 2024 Eliza Scidmore Award recipients during the annual National Geographic Society Storytellers Summit in February, 2024. Past recipients include Explorers Kiliii Yüyan, Lynsey Addario, Erika Larsen, David Quammen, Lynn Johnson and Carolyn Porco.