Preview the Stunning Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2023 with Highly Commended Photos

A macaque jumps on a deer’s back, rodeo style. A snow leopard leaps after a Pallas’s cat. A team check on a tiger cub evacuated from Ukraine. And a tragic elephant struck by a train. These are just a few of the Highly Commended photographs featured at this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

Every year, tens of thousands of photographers compete to win the title of Wildlife Photographer of the Year. In anticipation of the announcement of the 2023 award winners in October, the Natural History Museum has released this year’s Highly commended images from among the 49,957 entries from photographers from 95 countries.

Chair of the judging panel, Kathy Moran says of this year’s entries, “What most impressed the jury was the range of subjects, from absolute beauty, rarely seen behaviors and species to images that are stark reminders of what we are doing to the natural world. We felt a powerful tension between wonder and woe that we believe came together to create a thought-provoking collection of photographs.”

Race for life by Donglin Zhou, China
Highly commended, Behaviour: Mammals

© Donglin Zhou, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Donglin Zhou witnesses the drama of a snow leopard hunting a Pallas’s cat. When the snow leopard sprang into action, Donglin assumed it was after a marmot as ‘the Pallas’s cat blended in so well with the rocks.’ But in less than a minute, it was in the snow leopard’s jaws.

Both species are well camouflaged and are hard to see at any time, let alone together. While large birds of prey and wolves are known to hunt Pallas’s cats, it is a rare sight to see them hunted by snow leopards.

Forest rodeo by Atsuyuki Ohshima, Japan
Highly commended, Behaviour: Mammals

© Atsuyuki Ohshim, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

© Atsuyuki Ohshim, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

A sudden movement behind the sika stag caught Atsuyuki’s eye. In an instant – using a tree as a springboard – a young Yakushima macaque jumped onto the deer’s back.

Rodeo-riding of deer by the monkeys of Yakushima Island is rare, but not unheard of. Young male macaques have been seen clinging to female deer and trying to mate with them. In this case, however, the macaque was a young female, appearing just to be enjoying a free ride.

Coral connections by Alex Mustard, UK
Highly commended, Under Water

© Alex Mustard, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Alex Mustard is particularly fond of gobies, which are normally skittish, but he was determined to picture more than one in the frame. Capturing the vibrant, contrasting colors meant holding steady in the current to get a long enough exposure. Ghost gobies use gorgonian sea fans as a refuge or feeding platform, and perfectly blend into their surroundings. Coral reefs support a diversity of interconnected species but are at risk due to the warming seas of climate change.

The vanishing seal by Bruno D’Amicis, Italy
Highly commended, Natural Artistry

© Bruno D’Amicis, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Working under permit, Bruno D’Amicis lay hidden on a ledge for several hours before a Mediterranean monk seal glided through the shallows and disappeared into a cave below. The reflections on the water helped hide this elusive seal and allude to the risk of the species totally disappearing.

This species is now one of the most endangered mammals on Earth due to historic hunting and human encroachment on its habitat. Mediterranean monk seals once rested on open beaches, but most now seek the safety of caves.

Possum’s midnight snack by Caitlin Henderson, Australia
Highly commended, Urban Wildlife

© Caitlin Henderson, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Caitlin Henderson finds an unexpected guest on her balcony as a possum snacks on a large cicada. “There were heads here, wings there,” Caitlin says. She had peeked out and spotted a common brushtail possum sitting on the windowsill. Quick reactions allowed Caitlin to photograph the possum hungrily dismembering a large northern greengrocer cicada while carrying a baby in its pouch.

Firebirds by Elza Friedländer, Germany
Highly commended, Behaviour: Birds

© Elza Friedländer, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Elza Friedländer shows a pair of white storks in shimmering heat against the burnt ground caused by a controlled fire.As Elza had anticipated, shortly after the controlled fire was lit on an area of Kenya’s Maasai Mara, hundreds of birds arrived, particularly storks and kites. Most kept a reasonable distance, but the storks pressed up to the front line in search of easy prey.

Starting fires is a common though controversial way of managing grasslands to stimulate lush new growth and to control the spread of bushland. This can be a dangerous tactic especially in times of drought when fire spreads easily.

Fight to the death by Jasper Doest, the Netherlands
Highly commended, Photojournalism

© Jasper Doest, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Jasper Doest shows the final moments of extreme distress felt by an elephant hit by a train. The collision shattered the elephant’s hip beyond repair, and it had to be killed. Jasper, who was in the park on a different assignment, witnessed the episode. Despite the park director’s efforts to get the train company to slow trains, there are regular wildlife–train collisions in Lopé National Park, including up to 20 incidents with elephants a year.

Trains transport manganese from the Moanda mine, which holds 25% of known reserves. Manganese is a metal used in iron and steel production.

Prize catch by Jef Pattyn, Belgium/the Netherlands
Highly commended, Oceans: The Bigger Picture

© Jef Pattyn, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

© Jef Pattyn, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Jef Pattyn watches as an artisan fisher drags a sailfish across the beach. Jef had spent days watching fishers bring their catch to shore surrounded by birds trying to get their share. The fish were prepared at sea then loaded onto trucks early in the morning when this photograph was taken.

Artisan fishing provides vital employment opportunities for people living around Ecuador’s Eastern Pacific waters. This is small in scale compared to the industrial-scale fishing undertaken by international fleets. However, artisan fishing does still have an impact as marine mammals can be entangled in nets.

Snow bison by Max Waugh, USA
Highly commended, Animal Portraits

© Max Waugh, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Max Waugh catches sight of a plains bison kicking up flurries of snow over its bulky frame. From his vehicle Max saw the bison start to head downhill towards the road, gathering momentum, and he drew up to give them space to cross. Max framed the bison tightly to create this original composition.

Once abundant and wide-ranging across most of North America, bison were hunted to near extinction by the late 1800s. Numbers are slowly increasing, but they are confined to discrete populations, dependent on conservation management and constrained by land-use changes and land ownership.

The face of the persecuted by Neil Aldridge, South Africa
Highly commended, Photojournalism

© Neil Aldridge, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Neil Aldridge highlights the injuries sustained by a fox – most likely caused by dogs. Neil framed this fox’s permanently exposed teeth and eye as it peered out from its makeshift den in a rehabilitation centre. This image is part of Neil’s nine-year project photographing the complex relationship the British have with the red fox.

Since 2005 in England and Wales it has been illegal to poison foxes, block or destroy foxholes, or use dogs to hunt them. The injuries suffered by this animal were likely inflicted by dogs illegally sent into the fox’s den to flush it out.

Death in waiting by Pietro Formis, Italy
Highly commended, Animal Portraits

© Pietro Formis, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Pietro Formis discovers a Mediterranean stargazer peering through the sandy floor in coastal waters. Pietro approached the stargazer with care so as not to disturb it. Combining the concentrated light from the flash with a slow shutter speed and deliberate movement from his camera, Pietro presents the stargazer lit through a curtain of turquoise water.

The stargazer is an ambush predator. It buries itself in the sand by wriggling its body until it is invisible except for its eyes and teeth, then it lies in wait for small fish and invertebrates. Its coastal habitat is under pressure from erosion and pollution, and it is often caught as bycatch.

The catwalk by Shashwat Harish, Kenya
Highly commended, 11-14 Years

© Shashwat Harish, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Shashwat Harish was on a trip to the Maasai Mara when he heard that a leopard had been spotted nearby. After he spent many hours in a vehicle, searching and waiting, the leopard appeared and Shashwat quickly changed lenses and settings to obtain this elegant portrait.

Leopards are the smallest of the big cats and they are often seen near water in the Maasai Mara. Population numbers are decreasing due to habitat loss, hunting, and the decline of their prey.

War cub by Michał Siarek, Poland
Highly commended, Photojournalism

© Michał Siarek, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Michał Siarek documented efforts to evacuate animals including wild animals in private ownership such as tigers, from across war-torn Ukraine. ‘That night changed me,’ he says. ‘Hearing the cry of a lion still in the truck made me decide to help with the next evacuation run.’

Many of the animals were rescued from fighting hotspots in eastern Ukraine in 2022. At the Polish border, the animals were re-crated and rushed to Poznań Zoo, then on to sanctuaries in Europe. More than 200 animals have since been saved.

Mason bee at work by Solvin Zankl, Germany
Highly commended, Behaviour: Invertebrates

© Solvin Zankl, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Solvin Zankl carefully watches a two-coloured mason bee build the roof of its nest. Solvin knew the bee was memorizing landmarks around the nest so it could find it again. So as not to disorientate it, he edged his equipment closer each time it left. After two hours, the bee was using his equipment as a landmark.

Two-colored mason bees use snail shells for egg laying. They pack the shell with pollen and nectar for their larvae, then seal it with grass and sticky saliva. Humans sometimes consider snails to be pests, but this species could not survive without them.

Coot on ice by Zhai Zeyu, China
Highly commended, 10 Years and Under

© Zhai Zeyu, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Zhai Zeyu enjoys watching a coot as it struggles to stay upright on ice while subduing a wriggling loach. Zhai waited in the cold, watching coots as they endeavored to move across a frozen pond in northeast China. This coot had been scrambling in the water for food and eventually caught a loach.

Common coots are among the most widespread birds, with a range that extends across Europe and Asia and into North Africa and Australia. They require large areas of open water with nearby cover for nesting, and populations can be affected when their habitat is disturbed by humans.

Of this year’s competition, Dr Doug Gurr, Director of the Natural History Museum says, “We are facing urgent biodiversity and climate crises, and photography is a powerful catalyst for change. The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition reveals some of nature’s most wondrous sights whilst offering hope and achievable actions visitors can take to help protect the natural world.”

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London. Visit the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year website for details.

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