‘A welcome embrace,’ a rare glimpse of a Siberian tigress hugging a tree has won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020 competition, #WPY56.
The moving image by Russian photographer Sergey Gorshkov shows an Amur tigress hugging an ancient Manchurian fir tree at the Land of the Leopard National Park in Russian Far East.
Amur, or Siberian, tigers are found only in this region and it took more than 11 months for the photographer to capture this moment with hidden cameras. The race – regarded as the same subspecies as the Bengal tiger – counts only a small number surviving over the border in China and possibly a few in North Korea.
“The announcement was made by Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, Patron of the Museum, during an online awards ceremony live-streamed from the Natural History Museum, London, on 13 October,” the organizers said.
The chair of the judging panel, renowned writer and editor Rosamund ‘Roz’ Kidman Cox, praises the photo as “a scene like no other, a unique glimpse of an intimate moment deep in a magical forest. Shafts of low winter sun highlight the ancient fir tree and the coat of the huge tigress as she grips the trunk in obvious ecstasy and inhales the scent of tiger on resin, leaving her own mark as her message. It’s also a story told in glorious color and texture of the comeback of the Amur tiger, a symbol of the Russian wilderness.”
“Hunted to the verge of extinction in the past century,” explained jury member Dr. Tim Littlewood, Executive Director of Science at the Natural History Museum, “the Amur population is still threatened by poaching and logging today. The remarkable sight of the tigress immersed in her natural environment offers us hope, as recent reports suggest numbers are growing from dedicated conservation efforts.
Through the unique emotive power of photography, we are reminded of the beauty of the natural world and our shared responsibility to protect it.”
Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020
Liina Heikkinen was awarded the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020 for her dramatic image, ‘The fox that got the goose.’
With feathers flying, the young fox is framed as it refuses to share the barnacle goose with its five sibling rivals.
Liina is the youngest of a family of wildlife photographers and has spent much of her childhood immersed in nature in her Finnish homeland.
“A sense of furtive drama and frantic urgency enlivens this image, drawing us into the frame,” says Shekar Dattatri, wildlife filmmaker and jury member. “The sharp focus on the fox’s face leads us straight to where the action is. A great natural history moment captured perfectly.”
“The two Grand Title winners were selected from 100 images spotlighting the world’s richest habitats, fascinating animal behaviors and extraordinary species,” the organizers explain.
The winners of the competition, @NHM_WPY, which is developed and produced by London’s Natural History Museum and now in its 57th year, were chosen from more than 49,000 submissions from around the world.
The new images will be showcased at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum, opening on October 16 before touring across the U.K. and internationally to Australia, Canada, Denmark and Germany, among others.
Open to photographers of all ages, nationalities and abilities, the next Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition opens for entries on October 19 and closes on December 10.
The Pose, Winner Animal Portraits
A young male proboscis monkey cocks his head slightly and closes his eyes. Unexpected pale blue eyelids complement his immaculately groomed auburn hair. He poses for a few seconds as if in meditation.
He’s a wild visitor to the feeding station at Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary in Sabah, Borneo – “the most laid-back character,” says Mogens Trolle, who has been photographing primates worldwide for the past five years.
The most distinctive aspect of this young male – sitting apart from his bachelor group – is, of course, his nose. As he matures, it will signal his status and mood, and will serve to amplify his call. (Female noses are much smaller.)
Indeed, it will grow so big that it will hang down over his mouth – possibly requiring him to push it aside to eat.
Found only on Borneo and nearby islands, proboscis monkeys are endangered. Eating mainly leaves, along with flowers, seeds and unripe fruit, they depend on threatened forests close to waterways or the coast and, being relatively lethargic, are easily hunted for food and bezoar stones (an intestinal secretion used in traditional Chinese medicine).
Life in the balance, Winner Behavior: Amphibians and Reptiles
A Manduriacu glass frog snacks on a spider in the foothills of the Andes in northwestern Ecuador. As major consumers of invertebrates, glass frogs play a key part in maintaining balanced ecosystems.
A newly discovered species, distinguished by the yellow spots on its back and lack of webbing between its fingers, the Manduriacu frog is found only in this small remote area.
The reserve is private but seriously threatened by mining activities permitted by the government (open-pit mining for gold and copper), as well as illegal logging, and the new frog is considered critically endangered.
Serenaded by a frog chorus in torrential rain, the photographer held his umbrella and flash in one hand and the camera in the other to capture the first ever picture of this species feeding.
A mean mouthful, Young Photographer Winner, 11-14 years old
While diving in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, the young photographer was intrigued by the expression of a clownfish that had its mouth constantly open, holding something.
Clownfish are highly territorial, living in small groups within an anemone. The anemone’s stinging tentacles protect the clownfish and their eggs from predators. The clownfish itself develops a special layer of mucus to avoid being stung. In return, the tenants feed on debris and parasites within the tentacles and aerate the water around.
It was only when he downloaded the photos that Sam saw tiny eyes peeping out of the fish mouth. It was a tongue-eating louse, a parasitic isopod that swims in through the gills as a male, changes sex, grows legs and attaches itself to the base of the fish’s tongue, sucking blood.
When the tongue withers and drops off, the isopod takes its place. Its presence may weaken its host, but the clownfish can continue to feed.
A tale of two wasps, Winner Behavior: Invertebrates
This remarkable, simultaneous framing of a red-banded sand wasp (left) and a cuckoo wasp about to enter next-door nest holes, is the result of painstaking preparation.
The female Hedychrum cuckoo wasp – just six millimetres long – parasitizes the nests of certain solitary digger wasps, laying her eggs in her hosts’ burrows so that her larvae can feast on their eggs or larvae and then the food stores.
The much larger red-banded sand wasp lays her eggs in her own burrow, which she provisions with caterpillars, one for each of her young to eat when they emerge.
Deschandol’s original plan was to photograph the vibrant cuckoo wasp — tough enough to withstand the attack of the wasps it parasitizes — near his home in Normandy, northern France.
Despite the extremely narrow depth of field and tiny subjects, he captured not only the cuckoo wasp but also the sand wasp. Though these two species don’t regularly interact, Deschandol got a perfectly balanced composition by the insects’ fortuitous flight paths to their nest holes.
Out of the blue, Winner Plants and Fungi
At the Ritak’Uwa Blanco, the highest peak in the Eastern Cordillera of the Colombian Andes, the photographer set up to capture the snow-capped peak against the sunset. But it was the foreground of flowers that captured his attention.
Sometimes known as white arnica, the plant is a member of the daisy family found only in Colombia. It flourishes in the high-altitude, herb-rich páramo habitat of the Andes, adapted to the extreme cold with a dense covering of woolly white ‘hair’ and ‘antifreeze’ proteins in its leaves.
As the magic hour of sunset passed, there followed a blue hour that drenched the scene in an ethereal blue light. As the silver-grey leaves were washed in blue, the flowers shone bright yellow and seemed to glow ever brighter as the light faded, dominating the scene.
Show Business, Winner Wildlife Photojournalism
One hand raised signalling the bear to stand, the other holding a rod, the trainer directs the ice-rink show. A wire muzzle stops the polar bear biting back, and blue safety netting surrounds the circus ring.
It’s a shocking sight – not because of the massive predator towering over the petite woman in her ice-skating outfit but because of the uneven power dynamic expressed by the posture of the bear and the knowledge that it’s not performing by choice.
For the visitors to the traveling Russian circus in the city of Kazan, Tatarstan, it’s entertainment. They’re ignorant of how the polar bear has been trained and that when not performing, it probably spends most of its time in a transportation cage.
The polar bear is one of four females, reportedly captured in Russia’s Franz Josef Land when two years old (”abandoned,” according to the trainer) and still performing 18 years later – valuable property for the Circus on Ice, the only circus known to own polar bears.
For the photographer, who has spent several years reporting on animal exploitation and abuse, this was a symbolically shocking scene of exploitation featuring an Arctic icon of wildness.
Eleonora’s gift, Winner Rising Star Portfolio
On the steep cliffs of a Sardinian island, a male Eleonora’s falcon brings his mate food — probably a migrant lark, snatched from the sky as it flew over the Mediterranean.
These falcons — medium-sized hawks — choose to breed on cliffs and small islands along the Mediterranean coast in late summer, specifically to coincide with the mass autumn migration of small birds as they cross the sea on their way to Africa.
The males hunt at high altitudes, often far offshore, and take a wide range of small migrants on the wing, including various warblers, shrikes, nightingales and swifts.
When the chicks are fledged, they head south to overwinter in Africa, mainly on Madagascar.
The last bite, Winner Portfolio Award
These two ferocious predators don’t often meet. The giant riverine tiger beetle pursues prey on the ground, while weaver ants stay mostly in the trees.
But if they do meet, both need to be wary. When an ant colony went hunting small insects on a dry riverbed in Buxa Tiger Reserve, West Bengal, India, a tiger beetle began to pick off some of the ants.
The beetle’s bulging eyes excel at spotting invertebrate prey. Its bright orange spots –structural color produced by multiple transparent reflecting layers – may be a warning to predators that it uses poison (cyanide) for protection.
At more than 12 half an inch, it dwarfed the weaver ants. In defense, one bit into the beetle’s slender hind leg. The beetle swiftly turned and, with its large, curved mandibles, snipped the ant in two, but the ant’s head and upper body remained firmly attached. “The beetle kept pulling at the ant’s leg,” says Ripan, “trying to rid itself of the ant’s grip, but it couldn’t quite reach its head.”
Etna’s river of fire Winner Earth’s Environments.
From a great gash on the southern flank of Mount Etna, Europe’s largest volcano, lava flows within a huge lava tunnel, re-emerging further down the slope as an incandescent red river, veiled in volcanic gases.
Luciano describes the show that lay before him as hypnotic, the vent resembling “an open wound on the rough and wrinkled skin of a huge dinosaur.”
Mount Etna, which lies on the boundary between the African and Eurasian continental plates, has been erupting continuously for almost 30 years, with shows that include lava flows and lava fountains, the most recent phase in 15,000 years of volcanic activity, but a warning of its power.
When mother says run, Winner Behavior – Mammals
This rare picture of a family of Pallas’s cats, or manuls, on the remote steppes of the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau in northwest China is the result of six years’ work at high altitude.
These small cats are normally solitary, hard to find and mostly active at dawn and dusk. Shanyuan knew his best chance to photograph them in daylight would be in August and September, when the kittens were a few months old and the mothers bolder and intent on caring for them. He tracked the family in search of their favorite food: pikas, small, rabbit‑like mammals.
The three kittens came out to play, while their mother kept her eye on a Tibetan fox lurking nearby.
In the clear air, against a soft background, Shanyuan caught their expressions in a rarely seen moment of family life, when their mother had issued a warning to hurry back to the safety of the lair.
Their real threat, though, is not foxes but the degradation and fragmentation of their steppe grassland, throughout their Central Asian range, caused by overgrazing, arable conversion, mining and general human disturbance, alongside poisoning of their prey and hunting, for their fur and as pets.
Watching you watching them, Winner Urban Wildlife
What a treat for a biologist: the species you want to study chooses to nest right outside your window.
The Cordilleran flycatcher is declining across western North America as the changing climate causes shrinkage of the riparian habitats (river and other freshwater corridors) along its migratory routes and on its wintering grounds in Mexico.
It also happens to be very specific in its choice of nest site. In Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, it typically nests in crevices and on canyon shelves.
But one pair picked this remote research cabin instead, perhaps to avoid predation.
The nest was built on the head of a window frame by the female. She made it out of moss, grass and other plant material and lined it with finer fibers, hair and feathers. Both parents were feeding the nestlings. Behind them, the biologist recorded his observations.
The golden moment Winner Under Water
A tiny diamond-back squid paralarva flits below in the blackness, stops hunting for an instant when caught in the light beam, gilds itself in shimmering gold and then moves gracefully out of the light.
The beam was Songda’s, on a night‑dive over deep water, far off the coast of Anilao, in the Philippines.
Diamondback squid are widespread in tropical and subtropical oceans, preying on fish, other squid and crustaceans near the surface. In November, hundreds gather off Anilao to spawn.
A paralarva is the stage between hatchling and subadult, already recognizable as a squid, here 6–7 centimeters long.
Transparent in all stages, a diamondback squid swims slowly, propelled by undulations of its triangular fins (the origin of its name). Chromatophores (organs just below the skin) contain elastic sacs of pigment that stretch rapidly into discs of color when the muscles around them contract; recent research suggests that they may also reflect light. Deeper in the skin, iridophores reflect and scatter light, adding an iridescent sheen.
Perfect balance, Winner Young Photographers, 10 years and under
In spring, the meadows near Andrés’ home in Ubrique, Andalucia, Spain, are bright with flowers and European stonechats come hunting for insects. They are widespread throughout central and southern Europe, some resident year round, others overwintering in northern Africa.
Backroom business Winner Wildlife Photojournalist Story
A young pig-tailed macaque is put on show chained to a wooden cage in Bali’s bird market, Indonesia. Its mother and the mothers of the other youngsters on show would have been killed.
Pig‑tailed macaques are energetic, social primates living in large troops in forests throughout Southeast Asia. As the forests are destroyed, they increasingly raid agricultural crops and are shot as pests. The babies are then sold into a life of solitary confinement as a pet to a zoo or for biomedical research.
Having convinced the trader that he was interested in buying the monkey, Paul photographed it in the dark backroom using a slow exposure.
Much of the illegal wildlife in the open‑air bird market is traded in the backroom areas. Macaques can be legally sold; banned species such as baby orangutans are kept boxed out of sight.
Such animal markets facilitate the international illegal trade, supplying on demand what isn’t in stock. So many animals stacked so close together also facilitates the spread of disease.