The winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition were announced Tuesday at a ceremony at London’s Natural History Museum, which runs and exhibits the international competition.
Now in its 55th year, Wildlife Photographer of the Year, @NHM London, is the museum’s showcase for the world’s best nature photography. This year’s competition attracted more than 48,000 entries from professionals and amateurs in 100 countries.
This stunning image from the Chinese province of Qinghai titled “The Moment,” by photographer Yongqing Bao, which frames the standoff between a Tibetan fox and a marmot seemingly frozen in an impending life-or-death struggle, is the winner of the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2019 title.
“A powerful frame of both humor and horror, it captures the drama and intensity of nature,” said Roz Kidman Cox, chair of the judging panel. “Photographically, it is quite simply the perfect moment.” Images from the Qinghai Tibet Plateau are rare enough, but to have captured such a powerful interaction is extraordinary.
The Natural History Museum Director Sir Michael Dixon notes that “this compelling picture captures nature’s ultimate challenge – its battle for survival.”
At a time when precious habitats are facing increasing climate pressures, seeing these fleeting yet fascinating moments reminds us of what we need to protect.
High on a ledge on the coast in northern Norway, the photographer carefully positioned an old tree branch that he hoped would make a perfect golden eagle lookout. To this he bolted a tripod head with a camera, flashes and motion sensor attached, and built himself a hide a short distance away. Gradually, over the next three years, a golden eagle got used to the camera and started to use the branch regularly to survey the coast below.
The photo captures the eagle’s power as it comes in to land, talons outstretched, poised for a commanding view of its coastal realm.
In a winter whiteout in Yellowstone National Park, a lone American bison stands weathering the silent snowstorm. Bison survive in Yellowstone’s harsh winter months by feeding on grasses and sedges beneath the snow. Swinging their huge heads from side to side, using powerful neck muscles – as visible as their distinctive humps – they sweep aside the snow to get to the forage below.
On Pearl Street in New York’s Lower Manhattan, brown rats scamper between their home under a tree grill and a pile of garbage bags full of food waste. Urban rat populations are rising fast.
The rodents are well suited for city living –powerful swimmers, burrowers and jumpers, with great balance, aided by their maligned long tails. They’re smart, capable of navigating complex networks such as sewers. They’re also social and may even show empathy towards one another. But their propensity to spread disease inspires fear and disgust.
A small herd of male chiru antelopes leaves a trail of footprints on a snow-veiled slope in the Kumukuli Desert of China’s Altun Shan National Nature Reserve. These nimble antelopes – the males with long, slender, black horns – are high-altitude specialists and survive at elevations of up to 5,500 meters (18,000 feet), where temperatures fall to -40 ̊C.
Demand, mainly from the West, for their unique underfur called shahtoosh in Persian (”king of wools”) has triggered a drastic decline of their numbers. It takes three to five hides to make a single shawl – the wool cannot be collected from wild antelopes, so they must be killed.
On holiday with his family in France, the young photographer was in the garden on a warm summer’s evening when he heard the humming coming from the fast-beating wings of a hummingbird hawkmoth, hovering in front of an autumn sage, siphoning up nectar with its long proboscis. Its wings are reputed to beat faster than hummingbirds’. With the insect moving quickly from flower to flower, the photographer captured the stillness of the moth’s head against the blur of its wings.
During an organized night dive in the Lembeh Strait off North Sulawesi, Indonesia, the young photographer encountered a pair of big fin reef squid engaged in courtship, involving a glowing, fast‑changing communication of lines, spots and stripes of varying shades and colors. One immediately jetted away, but the other, likely the male, hovered just long enough for Cruz to capture one instant of its glowing underwater show
This female gelada, with a week-old infant clinging to her belly, climbed over the cliff edge close to where the young photographer was perched with his father on the high plateau in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains National Park. They were there to watch geladas, grass-eating primates found only on the Ethiopian Plateau. Shooting with a low flash to highlight her rich brown fur against the still-dark mountain range, he caught not only her sideways glance but also the eyes of her inquisitive infant.
Fur flies as a female puma launches her attack on a big male guanaco. For the photographer, the picture marked the culmination of seven months tracking wild pumas on foot, enduring extreme cold and biting winds in the Torres del Paine region of Patagonia, Chile.
A puma is fast, aided by a long, flexible spine similar to that of the closely-related cheetah, but only over short distances. For 30 minutes, she crept up on the guanaco and when she was within about 10 meters (30 feet), she sprinted and jumped. As her claws made contact, the guanaco twisted to the side, his last grassy mouthful flying in the wind. The guanaco escaped. Four out of five puma hunts end like this – unsuccessfully.
It may look like an ant, until you count its legs, and note the palps on either side of the folded fangs. The photographer spotted the odd-looking ant in the subtropical forest of India’s Buxa Tiger Reserve in West Bengal. On closer look, he realized it was a tiny ant-mimicking crab spider, just five millimeters (1/5 inch) long. Many spider species imitate ants in appearance, behavior and even smell. Infiltrating an ant colony can help a spider looking to eat them – or to avoid being eaten by them.
Pushing against each other, two male Dall’s sheep in full winter-white coats that blend into the snowscape, stand immobile at the end of a fierce clash on a windswept snowy slope. Strong winds, a heavy blizzard and extreme cold (-40°) forced them into a truce. The photographer spent a month following the sheep in the Yukon, battling with the brutal weather to the point that his feet were succumbing to frostbite, from which it would take months to recover.
Every spring for more than a decade, the photographer had followed the mass migration of common frogs in South Tyrol, Italy. Rising spring temperatures stir the frogs to emerge from their sheltered winter spots to mate, which involves a male grasping his partner, piggyback, until she lays eggs – as many as 2,000, each in a clear jelly capsule which he then fertilizes.
Soft natural light, lingering frogs, harmonious colors and dreamy reflections made the perfect photo. Within a few days the frogs had gone, and the maturing eggs had risen to the surface.
More than 5,000 male emperor penguins huddle against the wind and late winter cold on the sea ice of Antarctica’s Atka Bay in front of the Ekström Ice Shelf. Each male bears a precious cargo on his feet, a single egg, tucked under a fold of skin (the brood pouch) as he faces the harshest winter on Earth with temperatures that fall below -40 ̊C, severe wind chill and intense blizzards. The females had gone to the sea, where they feed for up to three months. Survival depends on cooperation and the birds snuggle together, backs to the wind and heads down, sharing their body heat.
Red-hot lava tongues flow into the Pacific Ocean, producing huge plumes of noxious laze, a mix of acid steam and fine glass particles, as they meet the crashing waves. This was the front line of the biggest eruption in 200 years of one of the world’s most active volcanos, Kîlauea, on Hawaii’s Big Island, which started spewing out lava through 24 fissures on its lower East Rift at the start of May, 2018.
In a matter of days, traveling at speed, the lava had reached the Pacific on the island’s southeast coast and begun the creation of a huge delta of new land that extended more than 1.6 kilometres. The photo captures the collision boundary between molten rock and water and the emergence of new land.
The colony of garden eels was at least two-thirds the size of a football field, stretching down a steep sandy slope off Dauin in the Philippines, a cornerstone of the famous Coral Triangle. These warm-water relatives of conger eels are extremely shy, vanishing into their sandy burrows the moment they sense anything unfamiliar.
The photographer placed his camera housing, mounted on a base plate, with a ball head, just within the colony. The shot he had been waiting for days came when a small wrasse led a slender cornet fish through the gently swaying forms.
The photographer caught the colony of nomadic army ants as it moved, traveling up to 400 meters through the rainforest near La Selva Biological Station in northeastern Costa Rica. The ants would use their bodies to build a new daytime nest (bivouac) to house the queen and larvae. They would form a scaffold of vertical chains by interlocking claws on feet, creating a network of chambers and tunnels.
At dawn, the colony sent out raiding parties to gather food, mostly other ant species. One night, the colony assembled in the open against a fallen branch prompting a structure spanning 50 centimeters and resembling “a living cathedral with three naves.”
The photo is a perfect illustration of the concept of an insect society as a super-organism.
Festooned with bulging orange velvet, trimmed with grey lace, the arms of a Monterey cypress tree weave an otherworldly canopy over Pinnacle Point, in California’s Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.
The tiny, protected coastal zone is the only place in the world where natural conditions combine to conjure this magical scene. The spongy orange cladding, is in fact, a mass of green algae spectacularly colored by carotenoid pigments, which depend on the tree for physical support.
For the past 17 years, Riku, a Japanese macaque legally captured from the wild, has performed comedy skits three times a day in front of large audiences at the Nikkō Saru Gundan theatre north of Tokyo. These highly popular shows, which attract both locals and tourists, derive from Sarumawashi ( “monkey dancing”) that has existed for more than 1,000 years.
The appeal of these performances lies in the anthropomorphic appearance of the trained macaques, invariably dressed in costumes, that move around the stage on two legs performing tricks and engaging in ridiculous role-plays with their human trainers.
Under a luminous, star-studded Arizona sky, an enormous image of a male jaguar is projected onto a section of the U.S.-Mexico border fence – “symbolic,” says the photographer, of “the jaguars’ past and future existence in the United States.”
Over the past century, human impact from hunting, which was banned in 1997 when jaguars became a protected species, and habitat destruction has resulted in the animal becoming virtually extinct in the U.S.
With no recent records of a female – a hunter in Arizona shot the last verified female in 1963 – any chance of a breeding population becoming reestablished rests on the contentious border between the two countries remaining partially open. A penetrable border is also vitally important for many other species at risk, including Sonoran ocelots and pronghorns.
The shot of the border fence was created to highlight President Trump’s plan to seal off the entire U.S.‑Mexico frontier with an impenetrable wall and the impact it will have on the movement of wildlife, sealing the end of jaguars in the U.S.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND COLLECTOR WHO PUT THIS ARTICLE TOGETHER:
I’m a dual Colombian-Luxembourgish freelance journalist, inveterate traveler and writer based in the world’s only Grand Duchy. I write a column on European affairs for the editorial page of El Tiempo, Colombia’s main newspaper. I have been a columnist for Newsweek and written for, among others, the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune and Toronto Globe & Mail.