There is so much to still learn about the spectacular animals and plants that we share Earth with. That’s why the winning photographs of The Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards 2022 are such a treat – they provide us views into the natural world that have never been seen before.
Every year, The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum in London, England, which holds an exhibit of the winning photographs selected from over 50,000 entries!
Among the 2022 winners is a haunting image of a Spectacled bear looking out over a drastically changing forest landscape and a giant sea star engages in an electrifying reproductive dance.
Take a closer look at a selection of this year’s photographs below:
Wildlife Photographer of the Year and Winner, Behaviour: Invertebrates
This year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year winner, Karine Aigner, captured an amazing close-up of a ball of cactus bees. Karine got close to the action using a macro lens, as a group of cactus bees compete to mate over the hot sand. The world’s bees are under threat from habitat loss, pesticides and climate change. With 70% of bee species nesting underground, it is increasingly important that areas of natural soil are left undisturbed.
Tony Wu watched the electrifying reproductive dance of a giant sea star in this galaxy-like scene. This is a male Leiaster leachi sea star is broadcasting sperm into murky water in a shallow bay in Japan. Over the course of an hour or more, the sea star swayed and twirled – a five-limbed dancer gyrating to a silent, timeless rhythm of life.
Winner, Animals in their Environment
Daniel Mideros set up camera traps along a wildlife corridor used to reach high-altitude plateaus in the hills of Ecuador. He positioned the cameras to show the disappearing natural landscape with the bear framed at the heart of the image.
These bears, found from western Venezuela to Bolivia, have suffered massive declines as the result of habitat fragmentation and loss.
Ndakasi’s emotional passing is shared by Brent Stirton who first photographed Ndakasi’s rescue as a two-month-old after her troop was brutally killed by a powerful charcoal mafia as a threat to park rangers, leaving her an orphan. Here he memorialized her passing as she lay in the arms of her rescuer and caregiver of 13 years, ranger Andre Bauma at Senkwekwe Center, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Highly commended, Urban Wildlife
Suzi Eszterhas noticed a brown-throated sloth had already made it across a road, but to reach the next clump of trees it needed to return to the ground and crawl. Meeting a big dog, it froze. Suzi watched fearfully but the dog, having taken part in a sloth-safety training programme with Sloth Conservation Foundation, simply sniffed it. Sloths live in trees and rarely descend to the forest floor. With increasing habitat loss and the fragmentation of the forest, they are forced on vulnerable journeys across urbanized areas to find food, suitable habitats and mates.
Winner, Natural Artistry
High in the Andes, Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt pan and home to flamingos. It is also one of Bolivia’s largest lithium mines, which threatens the future of these flamingos. Junji Takasago fought altitude sickness as he crept towards the preening group of Chilean flamingos for his dream-like shot.
Winner, Animal Portraits
José Juan Hernández Martinez witnessed the dizzying courtship display of a Canary Islands houbara. By the light of the moon, he dug himself a low hide so that he could catch the bird’s full puffed-out profile as it took a brief rest from its frenzied courtship dance.
Winner, Behaviour: Birds
Nick Kanakis spotted the young grey-breasted wood wren foraging in Tatamá National Park, Risaralda, Colombia. Knowing it would disappear into the forest if approached, he found a clear patch of leaf litter and waited. Sure enough, the little bird hopped into the frame, pressing its ear to the ground to listen for small insects.
Winner, Portfolio Award
Under the East Antarctic ice, living towers of marine invertebrates punctuate the seabed off Adelie Land, 32 metres (105 feet) underwater. Laurent Ballesta noted a tree-shaped sponge is draped with life, from giant ribbon worms to sea stars.
Winner, 15-17 Years
Katanyou Wuttichaitanakorn was intrigued by the contrasting colors and textures of a Bryde’s whale, which surfaced close to the tour boat he was travelling on. Bryde’s whales have up to 370 pairs of grey-coloured plates of baleen growing inside their upper jaws. The plates are made of keratin, a protein that also forms human hair and nails, and are used to filter small prey from the ocean.
Winner, Photojournalist Story Award
Karine Aigner photographed a Cuban bullfinch is positioned alongside a road so that it becomes accustomed to the hubbub of street life and therefore less likely to be distracted during a competition. These birds are highly prized for their sweet voice and feisty spirit.
For hundreds of years, some Cubans have caught and kept songbirds and held bird-singing contests. Throughout a turbulent period of economic sanctions and political unrest, these small, beautiful birds have provided companionship, entertainment and friendly competition within the community.
Now with regular travel and emigration between Cuba and North America, the tradition of songbird contests has crossed an ocean. As songbird populations plummet, US law enforcement is cracking down on the trapping, trading and competing of these birds.
Winner, Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles
Using a red light to which both bats and snakes are less sensitive, Fernando Constantino Martínez Belmar kept an eye on this Yucatan rat snake poking out of a crack. He had just seconds to get the shot as the rat snake retreated into its crevice with its bat prey.
Winner, Urban Wildlife
When Dmitry Kokh’s boat approached the small island of Kolyuchin, in the Russian High Arctic, which had been abandoned by humans since 1992, he was surprised to spot movement in one of the houses. Binoculars revealed polar bears – over 20 in total – exploring the ghost town. Dmitry used a low-noise drone to document the surreal experience.
Extremely inquisitive, polar bears will investigate abandoned structures for potential food. With climate change reducing sea ice, hunting is becoming increasingly difficult, pushing these bears closer to human settlements to scavenge.
Highly commended, Animal Portraits
Richard Robinson needed to make sure he kept far enough away from a curious right whale calf who was circling him, swimming off, then returning for another look.
New Zealand’s population of southern right whales, known as ‘tohorā’ in Māori, were hunted to near extinction by European whalers in the 1800s, then by Soviet whalers in the 1900s. Now protected, the population has bounced back from a small group including just 13 breeding females, to more than 2,000 individuals.
Elsewhere in the southern hemisphere, the recovery of southern right populations appears to have taken a hit from warming oceans. Whales in South Africa have been forced to shift their feeding grounds and their breeding success has dropped off as a result. New Zealand’s whales, by contrast, are among the fattest and healthiest on the planet. Key to their success may be the apparent adaptability of their foraging strategies.
Winner, Behaviour: Mammals
Anand Nambiar captures a a great cliff chase as a snow leopard charged a herd of Himalayan ibex towards a steep edge. Snow leopards live in some of the most extreme habitats in the world. They are now classed as vulnerable. Threats include climate change, mining, and hunting of both the snow leopards and their prey.
Winner, Plants and Fungi
Enjoying the interplay between fungi and fairy tales, Agorastos Papatsanis wanted to create a magical scene. He waited for the sun to filter through the trees and light the water in the background, then used a wide-angle lens and flashes to highlight the morels’ labyrinthine forms.
Morels are regarded as gastronomic treasures in many parts of the world because they are difficult to cultivate, yet in some forests they flourish naturally.
Highly commended, Animals in their Environment
Morgan Heim set up camera traps by the active burrows of pygmy rabbits in the Columbia Basin to observe their comings and goings. She was delighted by this moment of interaction as one of the rabbits sniffed at a stink beetle that had been sheltering in its burrow.
These rabbits live in Washington state’s Columbia Basin. The Basin has become increasingly overgrazed, and parts have been cleared for crop growing. With this small, isolated population facing extinction, conservationists have intervened, boosting numbers to 150 and rising.
Highly commended, Behaviour: Birds
After years of visiting a river in Finland, Heikki Nikki knew every ‘dipping’ rock favored by white-throated dippers. Picking one hidden beneath flowing water, he sat quietly on the bank. Suddenly the spot became the subject of a hotly contested argument. Poised for the action, Heikki captured the fleeting moment.
Highly commended, Behaviour: Mammals
Christian Ziegler was tracking a group of these endangered great apes near Salonga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo when he spotted a bonobo holding a baby mongoose. ‘The bonobo held and stroked the little mongoose for more than an hour’ before letting it go. The situation probably had a darker beginning. Bonobos are omnivores and eat mainly fruit but occasionally they hunt. The mongoose pup may have been taken when its mother was killed.
Highly commended, Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles
Plagued by mosquitoes, Brandon Güell waded chest-deep into the murky water off of the Osa Peninsula, Puntarenas, Costa Rica, where a gathering of male gliding treefrogs were calling. At dawn thousands of females arrived at the pool to mate and lay their eggs on overhanging palm fronds. Here, unmated males search for females to mate with.
To see more photographs from this year’s competition and to find out more about the annual competition visit Natural History Museum’s The Wildlife Photographer of the Year website. And to view last year’s spectacular images, click here.