The breathtaking winners of the Nature TTL Photographer of the Year 2021 competition have been announced, depicting scenes of life, death, and frivolity. An optical illusion took the grand prize, in a photo that appears to show an orangutan climbing upside-down owing to a very reflective pool that looks like the sky. Nature TTL reports that this year they received over 8,000 images from photographers across the globe, but it was Thomas Vijayan who took home the £1,500 cash prize for his photo The World is Going Upside Down.
“This image means a lot to me because presently the orangutan population is reducing at an alarming rate,” said Vijayan of his winning image in a statement sent to IFLScience. “Deforestation and humans are the key cause behind this. Trees over 1,000 years old — which are a major asset to our planet — are being cut down for palm oil plantation. As humans, we have a lot of alternative choices to replace the oil, but the orangutans don’t have any options other than losing their home. I am very happy to see this image be successful, as it gives me an opportunity to spread the issue to the wider world.”
Spanning a range of categories including animal behavior, camera traps, landscapes, small world, the night sky, underwater, urban wildlife, and wild portraits, the competition entries make for an aesthetically pleasing virtual tour of the world, including some really funny shots, too. Here are a few for you to enjoy.
It was sad trombone noises for a fish in South Africa whose final moments were captured by Johan Wandrag in their photo Fish Caught By Surprise. In it, we see a crocodile about to make quick work of a fish still airborne in its mouth. They say a photo says a thousand words, but this fish’s face says just one and it isn’t duck.
Vijayan also received Highly Commended for his photo Fun for All Ages, which shows a group of langurs hanging out on a tree. The peace is disturbed by a juvenile that appears to be having the time of its life swinging on the tail of two older individuals.
Oh, to be a Crimson Sunbird bathing in the water-filled leaf of an ornamental banana flower. The idyllic scene was captured by Mousam Ray in their photo Floral Bath Tub. In a statement, Ray explains that the rarely seen behavior is facilitated by dewdrops that gather on plants in the early morning, creating a natural tub for this tiny bird.
Samantha Stephens’ entry into the competition demonstrated that, in the wild, it’s not just predatory animals you need to worry about. Nature’s Pitfall shows a Northern pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) tucking into two unlucky salamanders that have slipped in the plant’s slippery bell and been unable to get out. Here, they’ll be transformed into an easily digestible pulp as the enzyme-rich fluid within the pitcher dissolves their tissues. Carnivorous plants are often the result of botanical species trying to make up for a lack of nourishment in their diet, but their specific niches are unfortunately leaving many of them at risk of extinction.
Things get a little more futuristic as we enter the underwater category, with Grant Thomas’s Manta Space Ship looking fresh off the set of Star Trek. “Manta rays are filter feeders, sustaining their huge size by consuming large amounts of plankton and small crustaceans, like krill,” said Thomas. “For this image, I was positioned flat on the sand, watching one Manta looping around and around whilst feeding on a cloud of planktonic creatures which had gathered. After some time, the manta drifted closer and closer to me until eventually I was able to capture this shot.”
Zhi’yue Shi’s simply titled shot Round demonstrates the unpredictable but rewarding pastime of blackwater diving. Shi says they searched “aimlessly” for their subject but were eventually able to quite literally shine a light on the magnificently circular appearance of coiled eel.
A rather fed-up-looking Pallas's cat makes for a highly relatable entry to the Wild Portraits category. Snow Monster was captured by Amit Eshel who was in the steppe zone in eastern Mongolia when they took the photo. Finding the cat was not so easy, requiring a 6-day search before discovering their grumpy subject half-covered in snow.
A Predator’s Playground makes for quite the juxtaposition, showing a cute young lion cub playfully toying with the tail of a dead giraffe. “As bizarre as it might seem to us, jumping up and down on a giraffe carcass and playing with the tail of a dead animal is as normal as it can be for a curious lion cub,” said Charl Stols, who took the photo.