For its 56th year, the Wildlife Photographer of The Year competition has released a selection of “Highly Commended” images as a preview to the annual showcase of the world’s best nature photography and wildlife photojournalism.
The world’s longest-running such contest, organized by the Natural History Museum of London, selects 100 images from thousands submitted by amateur and professional photographers from around the world to showcase stories and species and to challenge us to consider both our place in the natural world and our responsibility to protect and to encourage a future of advocating for the planet.
The overall winners, including the prestigious Grand Title winners, will be announced on October 13. For the first time, the awards ceremony will be conducted virtually from the Natural History Museum’s iconic Hintze Hall.
This year’s winning photos were selected for their creativity, originality and technical excellence from over 50,000 entries across 86 countries by an international panel of industry experts.
A perching endangered primate, perishing habitats and peeking possums are some of the fascinating and thought-provoking images included in the newly-announced Highly Commended images.
Among them also is 13-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 standing amid 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.
“Several of my favorite images from the competition – the ones that I can look at again and again – are among the commended pictures,” explained Roz Kidman Cox, chair of the judging panel. “But then, all the commended images are effectively winners, being among the top 100 awarded by the jury out of more than 49,000.”
This year’s diversity of subjects and styles has been “memorable,” according to the judging panel. “What especially stands out are the images from the young photographers – the next generation of image-makers passionate about the natural world.”
The competition, which has an outstanding reputation for attracting the world’s top photographers, naturalists and young photographers, “has never seen a more vital time for audiences all over the world to reengage with the natural world, and what better way than this inspiring and provocative exhibition,” said Dr. Tim Littlewood, Executive Director of Science at the Natural History Museum and member of the judging panel.
“Photography’s unique ability to spark conversation and curiosity is certainly special. We hope that this year’s exhibition will provide an opportunity for audiences to pause, reflect and ignite a passion of advocating for the natural world.”
After the flagship exhibition is unveiled at the Natural History Museum, the images will embark on a U.K. and international tour, bringing the beauty and fragility of the natural world to millions of people.
When his father planned a business trip to Vietnam, the young photographer of the photo above, 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.
For several years, the photographer 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 flood plains.
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.
A large wandering spider – black, hooked fangs tipping its bristly, striped mouthparts – pierces the egg of a giant glass frog, injects digestive juices and then sucks in its liquefied prey.
The photographer had walked for hours in darkness and heavy rains to reach the stream in Manduriacu Reserve in northwestern Ecuador, where he hoped to find glass frogs mating.
But his reward turned out to be a chance to photograph a behavior he had seldom seen: a wandering spider with an eight-centimeter (three-inch) leg span devouring the frogs’ eggs.
The 11 known species of wandering spiders are thought to be key predators of these small, often translucent amphibians. They shelter in rainforest plants in the day and hunt at night. Armed with sensitive bristles, the spider can detect vibrations transmitted through leaves and may also pick up sounds such as amphibians’ mating calls.
Their battery of eight eyes, including two large ones on the side of the head, have differing functions and are highly sensitive to low light but are smaller than in spiders that actively pursue their prey. One by one, over more than an hour, the spider ate the eggs.
Unlikely as it seems, this display illustrates a South African conservation success story. It represents the comparatively smaller number of deaths of seabirds –hereshy albatrosses, 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 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 – setting lines after dark using weighted hooks that sink more quickly, dragging bird-scaring lines have dramatically reduced the annual bird bycatch off South Africa, now numbering in the hundreds instead of tens of thousands.
But worldwide, every year, more than 300,000 seabirds, including 100,000 albatrosses, are still killed elsewhere by longlines alone.
A market trader slicing up fruit bats, surrounded by his other wildlife wares: pythons to his right, with bamboo-skewered bush rats beneath them at Tomohon Market in northern Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Local hunters and traders bring wild mammals and reptiles to sell here, along with domestic cats and dogs – some dead, others alive — to be killed and butchered onsite.
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.
Since the arrival of Covid-19, suspected to have originated in a food market in China, there have been calls to ban the sale and butchery of live wild animals in Indonesia. Where many species are confined together in inhumane and unhygienic conditions and then butchered on the same surfaces, there is a perfect opportunity for viruses to cross species barriers.
But being informal, such markets are difficult to regulate. The United Nations has, however, warned that most emerging infectious diseases originate from the wild and that “as we continue to relentlessly encroach on nature and degrade ecosystems, we endanger human health.”
At the very least, scientists are calling for the separation of wild animals from farmed animals in markets, together with a crackdown on the massive worldwide illegal trade in wildlife.
This vast expanse – once boreal forest – is just one section of the Mildred Lake Tar Mine, one of many tar mines in the region that together form the world’s third largest oil reserve.
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-story 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.
All around the pit are tailings waste ponds, which contain a slurry so toxic that birds have to be prevented from landing on them. Currently, most of the bitumen is shipped, diluted, by pipeline to refineries in the U.S. for processing.
The environmental impact of the entire operation is three-fold.
First, the mines are created by clearing boreal forest, a rich ecosystem and a vitally-important terrestrial carbon sink.
Second, the process of extracting the low-grade oil is hugely energy intensive and, according to the region’s First Nation indigenous people, continues to pollute.
Third, fully exploiting this massive emissions‑intensive fuel source will result in the further release of huge amounts of carbon that, according to climate scientists, will contribute disproportionately to global emissions and make it impossible to keep under the 2°C global warming threshold and avoid catastrophic climate change.
Darkness falls on the remote coral Fakarava Atoll in French Polynesia and the molluscs begin to move. These large topshells reaching six 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 6½ feet long, capable of speeds of nearly 30 miles per hour and ready for a night’s hunting. It pinpoints prey (mostly bony reef fish) with its acute senses and often hunts in packs.
Using a wide angle, Laurent framed the night life stirring beneath the reflections of the reef, contrasting the close-up, angular topshells with the sleek predator behind.
The Araucanía region of Chile is named after its Araucaria trees – here standing tall against a backdrop of late-autumn southern beech forest.
The photographer hiked for hours to a ridge overlooking the forest and waited for the right light, just after sunset, to emphasize the colors.
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 18th 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.’
In its natural habitat, Araucaria forms extensive forests, often in association with southern beech and sometimes in pure stands on volcanic slopes.
The ecology of these regions is shaped by dramatic disturbances, including volcanic eruptions and fires. Araucaria withstands fires by having thick, protective bark and specially-adapted buds, while southern beech, a pioneer, regenerates vigorously after fires.
In such environs, Araucaria can grow to 164 feet, usually with branches restricted to the upper part of the tree to reach the light over the broadleaf understory and can live for more than 1,000 years.