The winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 56 competition have just been announced, and the pictures are as stunning as always.
Selected from over 49,000 entries from around the world, they were revealed during an online awards ceremony live-streamed from the Natural History Museum, London on 13 October.
Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge and patron of the museum, announced Sergey Gorshkov as this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year for his magnificent image, The Embrace, of an Amur tigress hugging an ancient Manchurian fir in the Russian Far East. Amur, or Siberian, tigers are only found in this region and the Russian photographer took more than 11 months to capture this moment with hidden cameras.
Gorshkov's shot and the rest of the winners were selected from a shortlist of 100 images and will be exhibited at the Natural History Museum in London before embarking on a UK and international tour.
Animal Portraits Highly Commended: "Night Hunter" By Jonas Classon
Having tracked this great grey owl’s every move for weeks, Jonas set out in his car, on the night of a full moon, to capture a photograph of the bird. When he spotted his subject, Jonas cast his headlights towards it and sneaked into the forest. He caught the owl raising its claw, poised to attack a vole.
While this owl’s large, forward-facing eyes enable it to see in dim light, it actually locates its prey by sound. Owls have more sensitive hearing than many other birds and employ this adaptation to their advantage. Using sound alone, great grey owls can even hone in on animals hidden under snow.
Chair of the judging panel, renowned writer and editor, Rosamund 'Roz' Kidman Cox said in a statement that Gorshkov's photo depicts a scene like no other. "A unique glimpse of an intimate moment deep in a magical forest. Shafts of low winter sun highlight the ancient fir tree and the coat of the huge tigress as she grips the trunk in obvious ecstasy and inhales the scent of tiger on resin, leaving her own mark as her message. It's also a story told in glorious color and texture of the comeback of the Amur tiger, a symbol of the Russian wilderness."
Animals In Their Environment Adult Grand Title Winner: "The Embrace" By Sergey Gorshkov
Sergey scoured the forest for signs of Amur, or Siberian, tigers, searching for the best place to set up his camera trap. He knew his chance of photographing one was slim, but his mind was made up. ‘From then on, I could think of nothing else,’ Sergey says. After 10 months, his dedication paid off: he captured a rare glimpse of this magnificent tiger in its wild habitat.
These solitary cats exchange vital information, such as the need for mates, by leaving scent, hairs, urine and other markers on prominent spots, including tree trunks. In the far east of Russia, a population of around 500 Amur tigers persists, occupying a fragment of its former land. Under threat from habitat loss and poaching, these tigers are close to extinction.
Dr. Tim Littlewood, Natural History Museum's Executive Director of Science and jury member, added, "Hunted to the verge of extinction in the past century, the Amur population is still threatened by poaching and logging today. The remarkable sight of the tigress immersed in her natural environment offers us hope, as recent reports suggest numbers are growing from dedicated conservation efforts. Through the unique emotive power of photography, we are reminded of the beauty of the natural world and our shared responsibility to protect it."
Behaviour: Mammals Highly Commended: "Kids’ Game" By Yossi Eshbol
Yossi knew the ibex herd took the same route to find water and food every morning, so he was in position before first light. On cue, the ibex appeared. The adults walked nimbly around the cliff edge, but the kids couldn’t resist jumping over the ravine as ‘a game’, Yossi recalls. ‘This one bleated a few times then found the courage.’
Nubian ibex are a type of wild goat. They live in rocky mountains, deserts and shrublands, foraging for grasses and other plants to eat. The population of these nimble creatures is decreasing. The causes are the same as for so many other species: habitat loss, hunting and, most recently, drought.
The panel of experts went through a rigorous process of analyzing the images from both professional and amateur photographers as all of the finalists did an excellent job capturing the world's richest habitats, fascinating animal behaviors and extraordinary species.
But the show must go on. Open to photographers of all ages, nationalities, and abilities, the next Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition opens for entries on Monday, 19 October 2020. Also, important new categories focusing on people's impact on the planet, and the new jury have just been announced.
Associate sponsors for the upcoming exhibition at the Natural History Museum are renewable energy company, Ørsted, and legendary camera manufacturer, Leica.
Urban Wildlife Highly Commended: "Peeking Possums" By Gary Meredith
A parent possum (left) and its offspring peeped from their hiding place: the roof of a shower block in a holiday park. Every night that week, Gary had watched the pair squeeze through a gap to feed on the leaves of a peppermint tree. This particular night, the possums stuck their heads out to look at their photographer.
The common brushtail possum is a small and adaptable marsupial – a mammal with a pouch. It occurs naturally in Australia’s forests and woodlands, but has also adapted to urban living. While possums thrive in some areas, they have declined in others as changes in the pattern, frequency and intensity of fires have reduced the number of large trees.
Animal Portraits Highly Commended: "Keep Looking" By Greg Du Toit
Through a delicate haze of grass, a lion returned Greg’s gaze as the pride rested. From his vehicle, Greg focused on the green veil, allowing just enough depth to reveal the subject beyond. He wished to convey the feeling of standing on the edge of a wilderness, looking in through a dividing curtain. ‘These lions are as wild as they get,’ he says.
The prides of lions on this reserve in Botswana encounter very few people. Elsewhere across sub-Saharan Africa, conflict with humans, as well as loss of habitat and prey, has resulted in a severe drop in lion numbers. Not many animals could threaten an African lion, particularly when healthy, yet its population has declined by around 30 per cent over the past 20 years.
Plants And Fungi Winner: "Out Of The Blue" By Gabriel Eisenband
Gabriel set out to photograph one of the highest peaks in the Colombian Andes: Ritak’Uwa Blanco. Yet it was the foreground of senecio plants that caught his attention instead, the flowers shining bright yellow. As the day was unusually calm, Gabriel was able to shoot the flowing clouds without any blur of movement from the plants.
This senecio species is a member of the daisy family found only in Colombia. It is adapted to the extreme cold of the Andes and flourishes at high altitudes, though below the point at which snow remains on the ground year-round. The plant has proteins in its leaves and a dense covering of woolly, white ‘hair’, both of which stop it from freezing.
Wildlife Photojournalist Story Award Highly Commended: "The Lucky Ones" By Steve Winter
Clay, Daniel and Enzo cooled off at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado – one of a number of rescue centres.
Tigers like these can generate a lot of money as cubs, but, when grown, they are expensive to look after and dangerous. As a result, adult tigers are often unwanted.
Urban Wildlife Highly Commended: "The Village Cat" By Masood Hussain
Masood spent the evening tracking a tiger in a nearby forest. Just as he was heading home at sunset, his driver spotted this big cat, lying on the wall of an abandoned village school. Finding himself short of time as the light faded, Masood selected a high-sensitivity setting, or ISO, and shot hand-held, risking camera shake. But the risk paid off. Leopards are highly resourceful cats. They have survived in many human-occupied regions by adapting to hunt dogs and livestock.
Even so, their population is shrinking. In India, the main threat to leopards is poaching for the illegal trade in their skins and body parts. They are also persecuted in areas of development, where wild land is being replaced by housing, roads and mining.
Behaviour: Invertebrates Highly Commended: "Big Bat Bloodsucker" By Piotr Naskrecki
A scientist caught this bat during a biodiversity survey. When Piotr spotted the parasite on the bat’s head, his interest was immediately aroused and he quickly started to take photographs for research. Piotr didn’t have much time before the bat was released, but he did manage to capture the bristles and claws of its firmly attached stowaway.
At first glance, the smaller animal looks like a spider, but gripped to the head of the Mozambican long‑fingered bat was actually a six-legged, wingless bat fly. This bloodsucking parasite moves around on its host, but usually sits on the lower back, out of reach. When a bat is in flight, the fly may sit on its host’s head instead.
Behaviour: Mammals Winner: "When Mother Says Run" By Shanyuan Li
This rare scene of playful Pallas’s cats took six years to capture. Hiding opposite an old marmot hole in which a family of cats had built its lair, Shanyuan waited. Hours of patience were rewarded when three kittens emerged to play while their parent kept a lookout. Upon the sighting of a Tibetan fox nearby, the youngsters were swiftly ushered back inside.
Typically active at dawn and dusk, Pallas’s cats have flat heads, low-set ears and a light colouring, which help conceal them while hunting. Their habitat – mainly the grasslands of China, Mongolia and the Tibetan Plateau – faces disruption from mining and farming. Farmers poisoning rodents depletes the cats’ prey and subjects them to secondary toxicity, causing numbers to decline.
Animal Portraits Winner: "The Pose" By Mogens Trolle
The proboscis monkey cocked its head slightly and closed its eyes. It posed for a few seconds, as if in meditation. A wild visitor to a sanctuary feeding station, this monkey was ‘the most laid-back character’, says Mogens. Its peaceful expression was quite unlike anything he had seen before.
As this monkey matures, its distinctive nose will signal its status and amplify its calls. A male’s nose can eventually grow so big that it hangs over its owner’s mouth. Found only on Borneo and nearby islands, proboscis monkeys are endangered: they depend on threatened forests and are hunted for food and traditional medicine.
Animal Portraits Highly Commended: "Eye Of The Drought" By Jose Fragozo
An eye blinked in the drought-stricken mud pool as the hippopotamus emerged to take a breath. The challenge for Jose, watching from his vehicle, was to catch the eye when it was open. Having observed hippos for years, he knew that they only come up for air every three to five minutes.
Hippos spend their days submerged in water to stay cool and prevent their sensitive skin from cracking in the hot sun. They are vital in both aquatic and land ecosystems as their dung provides important nutrients. However, when rivers run dry, the high dung concentration depletes oxygen and kills aquatic life.
Under Water Highly Commended: "The Current Of Life" By Laurent Ballesta
Thousands of convict surgeonfish congregated to spawn in a narrow channel leading to the South Pacific Ocean – and sharks gathered to feed on them. Laurent photographed the fish scattering as the last rays of sun lit their billowing eggs. He spent four years diving around this remote coral reef observing its marine life.
The phenomenon pictured takes place every new moon at sunset, concluding in under an hour. In order for their eggs to be swept away into the ocean by the current ripping out of the lagoon, convict surgeonfish will run the risk of being eaten by grey reef sharks. Far from the shallows, the eggs are protected from a wealth of small predators.
10 Years And Under Winner: "Perfect Balance" By Andrés Luis Dominguez Blanco
Andrés had seen stonechats hunting insects in a meadow near his home. So he asked his father to drive him there in order to use the car as a hiding place for taking photographs. Looking through an open window, he watched this particular stonechat perch on a plant. As the bird maintained perfect balance, Andrés made the perfect frame.
The stonechat is a small bird with a call that sounds like two stones tapping together, hence its name. It is widespread throughout the heaths and bogs of southern Europe, feeding on insects, seeds and fruit like blackberries. Some – including the one pictured – are resident all year round, while others fly to northern Africa for winter.
Earth’s Environments Winner: "Etna’s River Of Fire" By Luciano Gaudenzio
Lava flowed from a great opening on the side of the volcano, running along a huge tunnel and re-emerging further down the slope as an incandescent red river. In order to witness the scene, Luciano trekked up the volcano’s north face for several hours. He set the hot flow against the blue gaseous mist to capture, what he describes as, ‘the perfect moment’.
Mount Etna, the most active volcano in Europe, has been erupting continuously for almost 30 years and threatens around 900,000 people. Phenomena like lava flows and lava fountains are common, with ash plumes less frequent. This is just the most recent phase in 15,000 years of volcanic activity – and a stark reminder of Etna’s power.
Note: this post originally had 83 images. It’s been shortened to the top 15 images based on user votes.