A series of stunning wildlife photographs from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition are being highlighted by the Natural History Museum. From cheetahs battling to stay above water in a flash flood to an image of a biting mosquito that was years in the making, the photos will delight you.
The images have all been selected as Highly Commended in their categories and picked from the over 50,000 entries received from professional and amateur photographers across 95 countries.
The great swim by Buddhilini de Soyza, Sri Lanka/Australia Highly commended, Behaviour: Mammals
When the Tano Bora (Maasai for ‘magnificent five’) coalition of male cheetahs leapt into the raging Talek River in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, photographer Buddhilini de Dilini feared they would not make it. The unseasonable heavy rain caused the worst flooding local Maasi elders had ever known. And although cheetahs are strong swimmers, the chances of them reaching the other side of the river to prospective prey was slim. de Soyza would pursue the cheetahs for hours to capture her image.
She wrote of her photo: “Monstrous rains in Masai Mara Kenya during January of 2020 caused one of the major rivers to flood and become larger and more violent than ever before. The world’s only recorded coalition of 5 male cheetahs, were looking to cross this river in terrifyingly powerful currents. It seemed a task doomed to failure, with many famous cheetahs dying trying to cross much fewer daunting waters.”
“A couple of times the lead cheetah waded into the river, only to turn back,” she wrote. The cheetahs refused to enter calmer stretches where crocodiles could be lurking. “Suddenly, the leader jumped in,” said de Soyza. He was quickly followed by the others.
“After hours of careful searching along the banks, they suddenly jumped into the water and began trying to swim across this maelstrom of water as we watched terrified, they would be washed away or eaten by crocodiles. Their aim was to cross over to the other side, which was part of their territory and full of game.”
“The lead cheetah looked straight at us during the crossing while gritting teeth with swimming effort, as if accusing us of not helping them and watching them about to die. We screamed with delight as we saw them finally cross over about a 100m downstream from where they jumped.”
Upon reaching the shore safely the cheetahs headed straight off to hunt.
A caring hand by Douglas Gimesy, Australia Highly commended, Photojournalism
“After a feed of special formula milk, an orphaned grey-headed flying-fox pup lies on a ‘mumma roll’, sucking on a dummy and cradled in the hand of wildlife-carer Bev. She was three weeks old when she was found on the ground in Melbourne, Australia, and taken to a shelter,” writes photographer Douglas Gimsey.
The flying fox was taken to Black Rock Animal Shelter. Grey-headed Flying-foxes are threatened by man-made objects (such as electrical wiring and barbed-wire fencing) heat-stress events and destruction of their forest habitat, where they play a key role in seed dispersal and pollination. They are currently listed as vulnerable to extinction.
The pup will be weaned onto fruit, then flowering eucalyptus when 8-weeks-old. After a few months, she will join a crèche and build up flight fitness, before being moved next to Melbourne’s Yarra Bend bat colony, for eventual release into it.
Apollo landing by Emelin Dupieux, France Highly commended, 11-14 Years
Photographer Emelin Dupieux may be young but he has long dreamed of photographing the Apollo, a large mountain butterfly with a wingspan up to 90 millimetres (31/2 inches) and now one of Europe’s threatened butterflies, at risk from the warming climate and extreme weather events.
While on summer holiday in the Haut-Jura Regional Nature Park, on the French‑Swiss border, Emelin found himself surrounded by alpine meadows full of butterflies, including Apollos. As dusk started to fall, Emelin found a roost and with the daisies moving in the breeze and light fading, he finally achieved his photo.
As dusk starts to fall, an Apollo butterfly settles on an oxeye daisy. In summer, on holiday in the Haut-Jura Regional Nature Park, on the French‑Swiss border, Emelin found himself surrounded by alpine meadows full of butterflies, including Apollos.
Lockdown chicks by Gagana Mendis Wickramasinghe, Sri Lanka Highly commended, 10 years and under
Ten‑year-old Gagana Mendis Wickramasinghe watched from his parents’ bedroom balcony as three rose-ringed parakeet chicks popped their heads out of the nest hole as their father returned with food. The birds’ nest was at eye level with the balcony, in a dead areca-nut palm in the backyard. Gagana’s parents had deliberately left the tree standing to attract wildlife.
During the long days of the island-wide lockdown, Gagana and his older brother had hours of entertainment watching the parakeet family and experimenting with their cameras.
When Gagana took this picture, both parents were feeding the growing chicks. Also known as ring‑necked parakeets, these parrots are native to Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan as well as a band of sub‑Saharan Africa, but feral populations are now found in many countries including the UK.
Net loss by Audun Rikardsen, Norway Highly commended, Oceans – The Bigger Picture
Overfishing is one of the biggest threats to ocean ecosystems, and according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 60 per cent of fisheries today are either ‘fully fished’ or collapsed, and almost 30 per cent are at their limit (‘overfished’).
Photographer Audun Rikardsen was on board a Norwegian coastguard vessel, on a project to satellite‑tag orca. He caught sight of a fishing boat that had caught too many fish and when encircling wall of the purse-seine net was closed and winched up, it broke and released tons of crushed and suffocated herring.
The spectacle of carnage and waste was effectively a crime scene. The Norwegian coastguard is responsible for surveillance of the fishing fleet and used Audun’s photographs of visual evidence in a court case that resulted in a conviction and fine for the owner of the boat.
Norwegian spring-spawning herring had been fished almost to extinction in the 1960s. The Atlantic herring came so close to extinction that it took 20 years and a near‑ban on fishing for the populations to recover. It is still vulnerable to overfishing as Audun’s photograph demonstrates.
This instance is regarded as a classic example of how a combination of bad management, little knowledge and greed can have a devastating and sometimes permanent effect, not only on the species itself but on the whole ecosystem.
Toxic design by Gheorghe Popa, Romania Highly commended, Natural Artistry
Gheorghe Popa was taken by surprise when his drone flew over a small river in the Geamana Valley, within Romania’s Apuseni Mountains. He had been visiting the region for several years, but he had never come across such a striking combination of colors and shapes. Sadly, however, the designs were not a natural phenomenon but the result of gold and copper mining and the resulting pollution.
In the late 1970s, more than 400 families living in Geamana were forced to leave to make way for waste flowing from the nearby Rosia Poieni mine. The picturesque valley became a ‘tailings pond’ filled with millions of tons of toxic waste, an acidic cocktail, containing pyrite (fool’s gold), iron and other heavy metals, laced with cyanide.
These toxic materials have infiltrated the groundwater and threatened waterways more widely. Popa’s composition not only draws attention to the ecological disaster but captures the elemental colors of heavy metals in the river and the radiating banks of this toxic landscape.
Beautiful bloodsucker by Gil Wizen by Israel/Canada Highly commended, Behaviour: Invertebrates
The best way to photograph a female ornamented mosquito, says Gil Wizen, is to let it bite you. The wildlife photographer and entomologist writes:
“When thinking about mosquitoes, the word ‘pretty’ is usually not among the first associations to pop up in our mind. And yet, there are some spectacular species of mosquitoes out there,” says Gil. “Members of the genus Sabethes are a perfect example. There is no other mosquito in the world that has such an elegant appearance: its body is covered with blue and green iridescent scales, and its legs are long and bear wide flattened brushes of hairs, like paddles.”
“Sabethes mosquitoes are found only in northern Latin America, and the females are important vectors of several tropical diseases, such as yellow fever and dengue fever. Like many tropical mosquito species, Sabethes reproduce in small tree holes or bromeliads, where accumulating rainwater serves as medium for their aquatic larvae.”
“I have encountered these mosquitoes several times in my trips to the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador, and found them to be extremely skittish and difficult to photograph well. The best way to photograph one is to endure a bite, thus risking oneself with a chance of getting infected with a tropical disease. After carefully studying and observing the animal’s behavior for several years I was able to get a head-on, intimate photo of a female mosquito preparing to bite one of my finger knuckles.”
And yes, admits Gil, the bite was painful.
Up for grabs by Jack Zhi, USA Highly commended, Behaviour: Birds In southern California, USA
A juvenile white-tailed kite (bottom bird) is being taught by his father, who is bringing him a freshly caught mouse. The father is suspended in the air for the newly fledged baby to catch the prey in midair.
“It took me three years to get a close up shot like this, because these actions can happen anywhere and are always too far away. It’s difficult to get the action, the distance, the weather and lighting, the angles of the individuals all right at the same time,” says Jack Zhi of his shot. “Not to mention they may start from a clear view and quickly move behind trees.”
He says that the mouse was alive and that dad sometimes intentionally brought live prey for training. “The lucky baby was able to circle back and got his rightful food before his siblings jumped in for a fight!”
Natural magnetism by Jaime Culebras, Spain Highly commended, Urban Wildlife
When Jaime Culebras spotted this tarantula hawk wasp dragging a tarantula across his kitchen floor, in Quito, Ecuador, he rushed to get his camera. By the time he got back, the giant wasp – nearly 4 centimetres (11/2 inches) long – was hoisting its victim up the side of the fridge.
Tarantula hawks are said to have among the most painful stings on the planet, deadly when used on a spider. They actually feed on nectar and pollen, but the females also hunt tarantulas as food for their carnivorous larvae. The wasp injects her victim with venom via a sharp, curved sting, then drags it – paralyzed but still alive – to her nest, where she lays a single egg on its body. When the egg hatches, the larva burrows into the spider’s body and eats it alive, eventually emerging as an adult.
Storm fox by Jonny Armstrong, USA Highly commended, Animal Portraits
The fox was busy searching in the shallows for salmon carcasses – sockeye salmon that had died after spawning. At the water’s edge, photographer Jonny Armstrong was lying on his chest, aiming for a low, wide angle.
The vixen was one of only two red foxes resident on the tiny island in Karluk Lake, on Alaska’s Kodiak Island, and she was surprisingly bold. Jonny had followed her over several days, watching her forage for berries, pounce after birds and playfully nip at the heels of a young brown bear.
Taking advantage of the window of deepening atmospheric light created by a storm rolling in, he was after a dramatic portrait. Using a manual flash, Jonny had a fellow researcher raise up the diffused flash for him. It was just enough to pique the fox’s curiosity, giving Jonny his atmospheric portrait – studio-style – moments before the deluge of rain.
Mushroom magic by Juergen Freund, Germany/Australia Highly commended, Plants and Fungi
Juergen Freund wandered through the rainforest of the Australian highland near his home in Queensland, Australia. Battling leeches and mosquitoes he was in search of the ghost fungus (Omphalotus nidiformis), an inedible bioluminescent mushroom. A full moon in February illuminated the forest and the glowing fungi he found at the base of dead tree trunks.
A substance called luciferin reacts with an enzyme, luciferase, causing the luciferin to oxidise, which causes the green glow. But why the ghost fungus glows is a mystery. No spore‑dispersing insects seem to be attracted by the light.
Raw moment by Lara Jackson, UK Highly commended, Animal Portraits
Bright red blood dripped from her muzzle – this young lioness’ wildebeest meal was still alive. Perhaps being inexperienced, the big cat had not made a clean kill and had begun eating the still struggling animal. Now, with a paw holding it down, she gave photographer Lara Jackson an intense stare. The lioness had been just resting in the long grass of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park when the wildebeest wandered by.
“She was already quite full,” says Lara, “probably after feeding the night before, but she grabbed the opportunity for an easy meal.” She didn’t eat much before she left the kill to join a male lion she had been mating with.
Deep feelers by Laurent Ballesta, France Highly commended, Underwater
Laurent Ballesta was diving in deep water off the French Mediterranean coast, among cold-water black coral, when he came across a vibrant community of thousands of narwhal shrimps. Their legs weren’t touching, but their exceptionally long, highly mobile outer antennae were. It appeared that each shrimp was in touch with its neighbours and that, potentially, signals were being sent across a far‑reaching network.
Narwhal shrimps are normally nocturnal and often burrow in mud or sand or hide among rocks or in caves in the day, which is where Laurent was more used to seeing them. They are also fished commercially. When shrimp-fishing involves bottom‑trawling over such deep-water locations, it destroys the slow‑growing coral forests as well as their communities.
The gripping end by Wei Fu, Thailand Highly commended, Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles
Clutched in the coils of a golden tree snake, a red-spotted tokay gecko stays clamped onto its attacker’s head in a last attempt at defence. Tokay geckos are the favorite prey of the golden tree snake. Wei was photographing birds at a park near his home in Bangkok, Thailand, when his attention was caught by the loud croaking and hissing warnings of the gecko.
It was being approached by the golden tree snake, coiled on a branch above and slowly letting itself down. As the snake struck, injecting its venom, the gecko turned and clamped onto the snake’s upper jaw. Wei watched as they wrestled, but within minutes, the snake had dislodged the gecko, coiled tightly around it and was squeezing it to death. While still hanging from the loop of its tail, the slender snake then began the laborious process of swallowing the gecko whole.
The nurturing wetland by Rakesh Pulapa, India Highly commended, Wetlands – The Bigger Picture
Development has destroyed 90 per cent of mangroves – salt-tolerant trees and shrubs – along this eastern coastal area of Andhra Pradesh, India. But mangroves are now recognized as vital for coastal life, human and non-human. Their roots trap organic matter, providing carbon storage, slow incoming tides, protect communities against storms and create nurseries for numerous fish and other species that fishing communities rely on.
Rakesh Pulapa flew his drone over the edge of Kakinada city and captured the impact of human activities – pollution, plastic waste and mangrove clearance. But the photo also captures the “protective, nurturing girdle that mangroves provide for such storm-prone tropical communities.”
Lynx on the threshold by Sergio Marijuán, Spain Highly commended, Urban Wildlife
A young Iberian lynx pauses in the doorway of the abandoned hayloft where it was raised by his mother, on a farm in eastern Sierra Morena, Spain.
Lynx were once widespread on the Iberian Peninsula of Spain and Portugal. But by 2002 there were fewer than 100 lynx in Spain and none in Portugal. Their decline was driven by hunting, killing by farmers, habitat loss and loss of prey (they eat mainly rabbits).
Thanks to ongoing conservation efforts – reintroduction, rewilding, prey boosting and the creation of natural corridors and tunnels – Iberian lynx have escaped extinction and, though still endangered, are fully protected.
They have begun to take advantage of human environments only recently. This individual is one of the latest in a family line to emerge from the old hayloft. After months of waiting, Sergio Marijuán’s carefully-set camera trap finally gave him the picture he wanted.
Now in its fifty-seventh year, the 2020 competition showcases the world’s best nature photography. The overall winners will be announced on October 12, 2021, followed by the exhibition opening at the Natural History Museum on October 15th.