Wildlife Photographer of the Year - a sneak peek
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year showcases some of the world's best nature photography and photojournalism, and offers a global platform for amateur and professional photographers to showcase their work. This year, the 56
th time the competition has been run, more than 49,000 images were entered. The overall winners, including the top honours of Grand Title winners will be announced on 13 October. The Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London.
Amazon burning by Charlie Hamilton James, UK. Highly Commended 2020, Wildlife Photojournalism: Single Image. A fire burns out of control in Maranhão state, northeastern Brazil. A single tree remains standing – ‘a monument to human stupidity’, says Charlie, who has been covering deforestation in the Amazon for the past decade. The fire would have been started deliberately to clear a logged area of secondary forest for agriculture or cattle farming. In 2015, more than half the state’s primary forest was destroyed by fires started by illegal logging on indigenous land. Burning has continued in the state, exacerbated by drought, as land has been cleared, legally and illegally. In the past year, invasion of indigenous reserves and conservation areas by loggers and land-grabbing ranchers has increased, emboldened by President Jair Bolsonaro’s commitment to open up the Amazon for business and his attacks on indigenous groups.
Winners will be selected from the Top 100 images, which will also make up the touring exhibition. In the interim, a selection of Highly Commended images has been made available.
A risky business by Quentin Martinez, France. Highly Commended 2020, Wildlife Photojournalism: Single Image. A market trader slicing up fruit bats is surrounded by his other wildlife wares: pythons to his right, with bamboo-skewered ‘bush’ rats beneath them. This is Tomohon Market in northern Sulawesi, Indonesia. Local hunters and traders bring wild mammals and reptiles for sale here, along with domestic cats and dogs – some dead, others alive, to be killed and butchered on site. Quentin observed the reality of the bushmeat trade, with wild animals in poor condition kept alive, tied to ropes or piled up in cages, awaiting butchery. He was struck by the juxtaposition of contrasting economies: the name-brand clothes of the stallholders amid the wild-animal body parts. The variety of bushmeat on sale here – which at one time included that of endangered primates – has put Tomohon, billed as an ‘extreme’ food market, on the tourist trail.
Among the recently revealed Highly Commended images is thirteen-year-old Arshdeep Singh's image of a douc, a critically-endangered primate, surrounded by the lush and verdant greens of its environment and maintaining eye contact with the viewer. Charlie Hamilton James's image of a lone tree surrounded by the vicious flames of a forest fire stands as a testament to human impact upon the Amazon rainforest and the damage being done to the natural world.
Head start by Dhritiman Mukherjee, India. Highly Commended 2020, Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles. Ever watchful, a large male gharial – at least 4 metres (13 feet) long – provides solid support for his numerous offspring. It is breeding season in the National Chambal Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh, northern India, and this usually shy reptile now exudes confidence. Its name comes from the bulbous growth at the tip of a mature male’s long thin snout (‘ghara’ is a round pot in Hindi), believed to be used to enhance sounds and underwater bubble displays made during breeding. Though numbers might have once exceeded 20,000, spread across South Asia, the past century saw drastic declines. The species is now critically endangered – an estimated 650 adults are left, about 500 of them living in the sanctuary.
Chair of the judging panel, Roz Kidman Cox, said: “Several of my favourite images from the competition – the ones that I can look at again and again – are among the commended pictures. But then all the commended images are effectively winners, being among the top 100 awarded by the jury out of more than 49,000. The diversity of subjects and styles this year is memorable, with more than 25 different nationalities represented. But what especially stands out are the images from the young photographers – the next generation of image-makers passionate about the natural world.”
After the flagship exhibition is unveiled at the competition’s home, the Natural History Museum, the images will embark on a UK and international tour, bringing the beauty and fragility of the natural world to millions of people.
Wind birds by Alessandra Meniconzi, Switzerland. Highly Commended 2020, Behviour: Birds. Blasted by the wind, high on the Alpstein Massif of the Swiss Alps, Alessandra could barely stand, but the yellow-billed choughs were in their element. These gregarious mountain birds nest in rocky ravines and on cliff faces, staying with their partners throughout the year. They feed mostly on insects in summer, and berries, seeds and human food waste in winter – boldly scavenging in flocks around ski resorts. They are constantly on the move looking for food, and as a scavenging flock drew closer, Alessandra could hear them shrieking ‘so loud and insistent in the dramatic landscape – it was like being in a thriller movie’. Taking advantage of gusts of wind sweeping the birds towards her and slowing their path, she captured their’ impressive acrobatics – one in characteristic headlong plunge – against the moody sky and jagged, snow-capped mountains.
The forest born of fire by Andrea Pozzi, Italy. Highly Commended 2020, Plants and Fungi. The Araucanía region of Chile is named after its Araucaria trees – here standing tall against a backdrop of late-autumn southern beech forest. Andrea had been enchanted by this sight a year previously and had timed his return to capture it. He hiked for hours to a ridge overlooking the forest and waited for the right light, just after sunset, to emphasize the colours. The trunks gleamed like pins scattered on the landscape, and he framed the composition to create the feeling that the whole world was clothed in this strange forest fabric. Native to central and southern Chile and western Argentina, this Araucaria species was introduced to Europe in the late eighteenth century, where it was grown as a curiosity. Highly prized for its distinctive appearance, with whorls of spiky leaves around the angular branches and trunk, the tree acquired the English name monkey puzzle.
Treetop douc by Arshdeep Singh, India. Highly Commended 2020, 11-14 Years Old. When his father planned a business trip to Vietnam, Arshdeep researched the wildlife online. It was after he read about the endangered red-shanked douc langur that he asked his father to take him along. The meeting was near Son Tra Nature Reserve, Vietnam’s last coastal rainforest and a stronghold for the langur. Found only in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, the primate is threatened by habitat loss, hunting and trade. Douc langurs eat mostly leaves, seeds, flowers and fruit and live in the canopy – a challenge for a photographer. Arshdeep had just three days at Son Tra. The first was hot, and the doucs were in the shade. On the next day, his long wait was rewarded when a male appeared in a tree on the slope opposite. It was a struggle to hold his telephoto lens steady and shoot at an angle clear of leaves, and just for a second, the langur glanced at him – the moment Arshdeep had come to Vietnam for.
Paired-up puffins by Evie Easterbook, UK. Highly Commended 2020, 11-14 Years Old. A pair of Atlantic puffins in vibrant breeding plumage pause near their nest burrow on the Farne Islands. Every spring, these small islands off Northumberland attract more than 100,000 breeding pairs of seabirds. While guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars crowd onto the cliffs, puffins nest in burrows on the grassy slopes above. When wintering at sea, their plumage is a dull black and grey, but by the time they return to breed, they are sporting black ‘eye liner’ and brightly coloured bill plates that have fused into an unmistakable beak – one which, to other puffins, also glows with UV light. Evie had longed to see a puffin, and when school broke up, she and her family managed two day trips to Staple Island in July, before the puffins returned to sea in August. She stayed by the puffins’ burrows, watching the adults returning with mouthfuls of sand eels.
World of tar by Garth Lenz, Canada. Highly Commended 2020, Wildlife Photojournalism: Single Image. As twilight falls on the Alberta tar sands, the stripped landscape takes on an oily blue tint. This vast expanse – once boreal forest – is just one section of the Mildred Lake Tar Mine, itself just one of the region’s many tar mines that together form the world’s third largest oil reserve. But the low-grade tarry oil – bitumen – is obtained by strip-mining the shallow layer of sand, clay and bitumen and then extracting the bitumen using energy‑intensive and potentially chemically polluting processes. To convey the scale of the operations, Garth chartered a plane and flew over the desolate landscape, choosing the early evening light for contrast and mood. The trucks in the foreground are the height of a two-storey house but are dwarfed by the giant open pit behind. The terraced strips lead towards a refinery – fronted by enormous yellow sulphur piles – and the Athabasca River beyond.
Peeking possums by Gary Meredith, Australia. Highly Commended 2020, Urban Wildlife. Two common brushtail possums – a mother (left) and her joey – peek out of their hiding place under the roof of a shower block in a holiday park in Yallingup, Western Australia. Gary had watched them all week. They would pop up at sunset, keep an eye on the campers till dark, then squeeze out through the gap and head for the trees to feed on the leaves of a peppermint tree. These small, adaptable marsupials (mammals with pouches) naturally occur in Australia’s forests and woodlands, taking shelter in tree hollows, but in more urban areas, they may use roof spaces. To get the right angle, Gary moved his car close to the building and climbed up. The curious possums – probably used to being fed by other campers – stuck their heads out and peered at the interesting man and his camera.
The perfect catch by Hannah Vijayan, Canada. Highly Commended 2020, 15-17 Years Old. A brown bear pulls a salmon from the shallows of a river in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. The huge park contains Pacific coastline, mountains, lakes, rivers and an estimated 2,200 brown bears. In spring, when bears emerge from hibernation in their mountain dens, many of them head down to feed on sedges in open meadows and forage for clams on the mudflats. Then they feast on the vast numbers of nutrient-rich sockeye salmon that start arriving, gathering in the estuaries before heading upstream to spawn. Here, the bear has caught a sockeye still in its ocean form (before it has developed its reproductive red colour and pronounced jaws). The presence of the salmon through until autumn ensures the bears’ survival through the winter. Alaskan brown bears are among the world’s largest. Males may eat 30 salmon a day and weigh more than 450 kilograms (1,000 pounds) by the end of the summer.
Eye of the drought by Jose Fragozo, Portugal. Highly Commended 2020, Animal Portraits. An eye blinks open in the mud pool as a hippopotamus emerges to take a breath – one every three to five minutes. The challenge for Jose, watching in his vehicle, was to catch the moment an eye opened. For several years, Jose has been watching hippos in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve – here in a remnant of the drought-stricken Mara River. Hippos spend the day submerged to keep their temperature constant and their sensitive skin out of the sun, and at night they emerge to graze on the floodplains. Throughout their sub-Saharan African range, hippos are vulnerable to the combined effects of increasing water extraction and climate change. They are vital grassland and aquatic ecosystem engineers, and their dung provides important nutrients for fish, algae and insects. But when rivers run dry, a concentration of dung depletes the oxygen and kills the aquatic life.
The night shift by Laurent Ballesta, France. Highly Commended 2020, Under Water. As darkness falls on the remote coral Fakarava Atoll, in French Polynesia, the molluscs begin to move. These large topshells – reaching 15 centimetres (6 inches) across the base – spend the day hiding in crevices among corals, usually on the outer fringes of the reef, withstanding the strong currents and surf. At night, they emerge to graze on algal pavements and coral rubble. Their thick, cone-shaped shells, shown encrusted with algae, were so sought after – to make mother-of-pearl buttons, jewellery and other handicrafts – that the species was once the world’s most traded invertebrate. This led to its widespread decline, and it is now the focus of conservation efforts. Cruising behind these slow grazers is one of the reef’s top predators – a grey reef shark, nearly 2 metres (6½ feet) long – capable of speeds of nearly 50 kilometres (30 miles) per hour and ready for a night’s hunting.
Surprise! by Makoto Ando, Japan. Highly Commended 2020, Behaviour: Mammals. A red squirrel bounds away from its surprise discovery – a pair of Ural owls, very much awake. In forest near his village on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, Makoto had spent three hours, in freezing conditions, hiding behind a nearby tree hoping that the owl couple would pose or perform. Suddenly, a squirrel appeared from the treetops. ‘It was extraordinary to see them all in the same tree,’ says Makoto. Ural owls prey mainly on small mammals, including red squirrels. This one, with characteristic tufted ears, bushy tail and grey-tinged winter coat, is a subspecies of the Eurasian red squirrel endemic to Hokkaido (possibly threatened by the introduction of mainland red squirrels, originally as pets). Rather than fleeing, the curious squirrel approached and peered into the owls’ hole, first from the top, then from the side.
The rat game by Matthew Maran, UK. Highly Commended 2020, Behaviour: Mammals. With a determined stare, a young fox holds tight to her trophy – a dead brown rat – as her brother attempts to take it off her. For the past four years, Matthew has been photographing the foxes that live on a North London allotment. Like all foxes, they are opportunistic, taking advantage of all available food, whether human or pet food discarded or put out by fox-lovers, fruit, mice, voles, worms and other invertebrates, even birdfood. On this August evening, as Matthew lay prone watching the youngsters at play, one of them exploded out of the bushes with a dead rat in its mouth. The other three then began squabbling over it and a tug-of-war developed. When one got the prize, it would repeatedly toss it into the air and catch it. The rat could have been provided by one of the adults – which continue to feed their young into August – but it is rare for foxes to catch rats.
Memorial to the albatrosses by Thomas P Peschak, Germany/South Africa. Highly Commended 2020, Wildlife Photojournalism: Single Image. Unlikely as it seems, this display illustrates a South African conservation success story. It represents the comparatively smaller number of deaths of seabirds – here shy albatrosses and a yellow-nosed albatross (a longline hook still in its bill) and white‑chinned petrels – caught in 2017 on longlines set by Japanese tuna-fishing boats off South Africa’s coast. A boat’s main line can extend for more than 80 kilometres (50 miles), with thousands of baited hooks. When small seabirds dive down and bring the baited hooks to the surface, petrels and albatrosses try to swipe their catches whole, hook themselves and drown. In recent years, more seabird‑friendly fishing practices have dramatically reduced the annual bird bycatch off South Africa, now numbering in the hundreds instead of tens of thousands.
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