Can you spot the one thing in this international award-winning photo that the National History Museum says is completely fake? No, it’s not the bioluminescent display of concealed click beetle larvae attempting to lure in flying termites. It’s not the dazzling starry night sky, either. The elephant in the room is, well, actually the anteater centerstage in the photo – a taxidermy specimen at that.
“The Night Raider”, by photographer Marcio Cabral, was the 2017 winner of the "Animals in their Environment" category in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards. Dude, you had one job. The museum says the photo was disqualified from last year’s competition after a “careful and thorough investigation”.
It started last March when an anonymous source sent the museum the photo below showing another anteater with an uncanny resemblance to Cabral’s raider – this one a taxidermy display at the entrance of Emas National Park, the same park where the night raider was taken.
The museum deployed a team of five independent scientists – including two mammal experts, a South African mammals expert, and an expert anteater researcher – to examine the animal’s posture and morphology, as well as the raised tufts of fur and patterns on the head and neck. The scientists found they are “too similar for the images to show two different animals.” In a statement sent to IFLScience, the museum says the experts would have “expected some variation between two individuals of the same species.”
Cabral cooperated in the investigation by supplying RAW images taken before and after the winning shot was snapped, none of which included the anteater.
"Unfortunately, I do not have another image of the animal because it is a long exposure of 30 seconds and ISO 5000," Cabral told the BBC. "After the flashes were fired, the animal left the place, so it was not possible to make another photo with the animal coming out of the place that is totally dark.”
Cabral strongly denies the museum’s accusation and provided a witness who claims he saw the anteater alive.
It’s not the first time this has happened. The 2009 winning image “Storybook Wolf” taken by Jose Luis Rodriguez was disqualified as a staged photo, a claim he also denies.
Cabral has been stripped of his title and his image removed from the exhibition tour. He will not be eligible to enter the competition again. A new winner cannot be awarded for the 2017 competition because the photographers’ names are hidden during the judging period to maintain objectivity.
IFLScience attempted to contact the photographer. At the time of publication, we have not received a response.