The Natural History Museum has released the first images from this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, now in its 56th year, showing a selection of the judges' “Highly Commended” images as a sneak peek before the winners are announced next month.
The overall winners will be announced on October 13 in a virtual awards ceremony, just in time for the exhibition to open on October 16 at the Natural History Museum in London. To whet your appetite for the big reveal, the competition has released a collection of images to show off some of the most poignant, striking, funny, and devastating entries.
“Several of my favorite images from the competition – the ones that I can look at again and again – are among the commended pictures. But then all the commended images are effectively winners, being among the top 100 awarded by the jury out of more than 49,000,” Roz Kidman Cox, Chair of the judging panel, said in a statement via email.
“The diversity of subjects and styles this year is memorable, with more than 25 different nationalities represented. But what especially stands out are the images from the young photographers – the next generation of image-makers passionate about the natural world.”
Among the collection is this sobering photograph showing a single tree standing strong against the intense wildfires lighting up to the Amazon rainforest. The image was shot in Maranhão state of northeastern Brazil by Charlie Hamilton James, a wildlife photographer from the UK. In 2015, over half the state’s primary forest was destroyed by fires started by illegal logging on indigenous land. Recent years have seen even more forested areas being actively destroyed by loggers, miners, and land-grabbing ranchers, emboldened by the populist President Jair Bolsonaro’s commitment to open up the Amazon for business. Of course, all of this new business will come at a monumental cost of biodiversity and indigenous communities, which this photograph shockingly highlights.
This image (above) shows an unfortunate line up of dead seabirds – including shy albatrosses, white‑chinned petrels, and a Yellow-nosed albatross (seen at the top of the image with a longline hook still in its bill) – caught in 2017 on longlines set by Japanese tuna-fishing boats off South Africa’s coast. Unfortunately, it's common for smaller seabirds to dive down and bring the baited hooks to the water's surface, leaving the fish up for grabs for petrels and albatrosses who can often hook themselves and drown.
Despite its somewhat grisly imagery, however, the photography is actually part of a much more optimistic story than it first appears. Recent years have seen the adoption of more bird-friendly fishing practices in this part of the world, like setting lines after dark and using lines to scare away the birds, which has dramatically decreased this kind of bycatch.
How's this for a family photo? This image by Dhiritiman Mukherjee shows a large male gharial, over 4 meters (13 feet) long, chilling out with dozens of offspring in the National Chambal Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh, northern India. This species is now critically endangered, with an estimated 650 adults left, and remains heavily threatened by infrastructure development, depletion of fish stocks, and entanglement in nets. Given this bleak outlook, it's welcome news to see such a large happy family all together.
Above, we see an image snapped up by 13-year-old Arshdeep Singh of a red-shanked douc langur, a vibrantly colored primate, making close eye contact with the viewer through the foliage in Vietnam. This endangered species is extremely rare, incredibly shy, and lives in the dense green of Southeast Asia, making it a real feat to capture the animal with such clarity.
I spy with my little eye something beginning with "H". This photograph by Jose Fragoso shows a hippopotamus emerging from a mud bath in the Maasai Mara National Reserve of Kenya. Hippos spend most of their time submerged to maintain a constant temperature and keep their sensitive skin out of the Sun. With increasing water extraction and the effects of climate change starting to sink in, it's becoming harder and harder for such a species to find these much-needed watering holes.
Aptly titled "A Risky Business," this image by Quentin Martinez shows a market vendor slicing up fruit bats at Tomohon Market in the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Around the market stall lies all manner of exotic bushmeat, including pythons and so-called "bush rats." The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19, suspected of emerging from an animal in a food market in China, has reignited the debate around hygiene standards in wet markets and the trade of exotic bushmeat as it provides the ideal circumstances for a pathogen to spread from animals to humans. While this is a very complex debate, it's clear that a crackdown on illegal wildlife trade would certainly not hurt this major issue of our time, not to mention other concerns such as conservation and animal welfare.
Jaime Culebras got up close and personal with this wandering spider while trekking through the heavy rain towards a stream in Manduriacu Reserve, northwestern Ecuador. Remarkably, this incredibly sharp image shows the spider, approximately 8 centimeters (3 inches) in leg span, while it's enjoying a meal of frog eggs. This is a behavior that's scarcely seen, let alone caught on camera.
And lastly, these adorable curious brushtail possums – mom and joey – are indeed watching photographer Gary Meredith watching them. Hiding under the roof of a shower block in a holiday park in Yallingup, Western Australia, these little marsupials are both vulnerable and resourceful. It's likely they didn't run away as they are used to being fed by campers, which has both its benefits and its drawbacks. They are currently listed as 'least concern' on the endangered species list.