Currently on exhibit at London’s Natural History Museum, The Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition, features the very best wildlife photographs, from hummingbirds to sperm whales. Check out the stunning wildlife photos from this year’s competition! — Global Animal
A marvel of ants by Bence Máté. Overall Winner. When Bence first tried to photograph leaf-cutter ants in action, he thought it was going to be easy. It wasnt, but relishing the challenge, he found out as much as he could about their complex society and spent hours watching and following them in the Costa Rican rainforest. They proved to be wonderful subjects, says Bence, who discovered that they were most active at night. He would follow a column as it fanned out into the forest. Each line terminated at a tree, shrub or bush. The variation in the size of the pieces they cut was fascinating – sometimes small ants seemed to carry huge bits, bigger ones just small pieces. Of his winning shot, he says, I love the contrast between the simplicity of the shot itself and the complexity of the behaviour. Lying on the ground to take the shot, he also discovered the behaviour of chiggers (skin-digesting mite larvae), which covered him in bites.
The frozen moment by Fergus Gill. Youth Winner. On Boxing Day 2009, it was so cold in Scotland (-17°C /1°F) that the birds were desperate for food. A rowan tree at the bottom of Fergus’s garden in Perthshire became a magnet for thrushes – five of the six British species – song thrushes, mistle thrushes, blackbirds, redwings and a flock of about 15 fieldfares, all frantically picking the berries. Fergus wanted to capture the freezing feel of the day while showing the character of fieldfares in action, some of which were hovering to pluck berries. His biggest challenge (other than the cold itself) was to isolate a fieldfare against a clear background, and the only way to get the angle was to stand on his frozen pond. Risking a high ISO setting as well as the ice, he caught both the moment and the delicacy of colour he was after.
Tiger stalking by Andy Rouse. Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife – Winner. Tiger portraits are common enough (though tigers are most definitely not), but to photograph head‑on the mesmerizing gaze of an intensely focused hunter is rare. This young tigress also gave Andy the chance to see a hunt from start to finish, on the very last drive of a recent trip to India. The young tigress stalked a herd of chital deer for a couple of hours through the long grass in Ranthambore National Park, while Andy stalked her. She followed the herd for more than a kilometre, constantly surveying for any sign of weakness or injury among the deer, before finally selecting her victim. Moments before she charged, Andy took his winning shot.
Giant encounter by Tony Wu. Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife – Highly Commended. Scar, a ten-year-old sperm whale, loves playing with people as much as he does with the other sperm whales in his group. Injured as a calf off Dominica, where he was born, possibly by a pod of pilot whales, he has since bonded with people and invites contact. Scar came right up to Tony when he was snorkelling, resulting in an unusual perspective of the world’s largest predator. His massive head is a third of his body length, and he may well grow to be up to 18 metres (59 feet) long. Says Tony, ‘It’s a bit unnerving when you’re in the water and a nearly full-grown whale charges at you at high speed – and you’re not 100 per cent sure it’s Scar.’
Golden forest rhino. Photo Credit: Greg du Toit
Pelican pack by Jari Peltomäki. Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife – Highly Commended. By February, when Jari arrived at Lake Kerkini, many of the Dalmatian pelicans were already in their breeding plumage, the males displaying their orange-red throat pouches. Numbers have declined dramatically, but in winter, hundreds congregate on the lake in northern Greece. ‘Local fishermen have a special relationship with them and feed them scraps,’ says Jari. ‘The pelicans follow the men around, and so I tagged along, too.’ He used a floating hide to get the water-level angle he needed. His aim was to light them with the rising sun against a backdrop of the snow-covered mountains – which he did, to perfection, as the birds reached skyward for scraps thrown from a nearby boat.
Attention time by Bence Máté. Eric Hosking Award – Winner. The newly fledged burrowing owl chicks (here, each balancing on one leg, with the female attending to some necessary grooming) still couldn’t fly. They had emerged from their den only three days before. But they were impossible to photograph for much of the day. ‘In the sweltering heat, they would tuck themselves into the shade of my hide.’ But as soon as the temperature cooled, they would flutter up to the top of the spoil-heap created when their parents had first excavated the nest hole. So every day for a week, Bence would crawl into his hide at about 6pm to photograph them in the short window of opportunity before the sun set over the Pantanal.
Photo Credit: Veolia Wildlife Photographer Of The Year Competition
Red squirrel keeps a lookout from The house in the woods by Kai Fagerström. Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year – Specially Commended. The sun’s last rays bounce off the old windowpanes, as though a fire roars within. But this old house near Salo, Finland has long been deserted. The roof has holes, the walls are crumbling and draughts hiss through the windows. Floorboards crack, and doors creak. But if you hang around until dusk, if you listen and watch and are patient, you may glimpse inhabitants, because when people move out, nature moves in. Red squirrels often build their dreys inside abandoned houses, and so Kai was not in the least surprised to discover one inside the house. The house gave shelter in winter and safety from hungry birds of prey. Kai tempted the squirrel onto the window ledge with nuts so he could photograph it against the window and the ancient, shredded curtains. ‘I love the fact that it is looking out of the window,’ he says, ‘as though expecting guests to arrive any minute.’
Sweet intimacy by Christian Ziegler. At high altitudes, where there are few insect pollinators, orchids invite the services of hummingbirds with offers of nectar. This Eleanthus orchid, in a cloud forest in western Panama, was on the flower-patrol route of a male magnificent hummingbird, which would pass by every 40 minutes or so to check for freshly open florets. Whenever he dipped his beak in for a drink, a purple pollen package would stick to it, and he would inadvertently deliver this to the next orchid he visited. Christian captured the act in intimate detail by using a custom-made wide-angle macro lens, choosing an orchid that he could set up his camera next to and watching for two weeks, poised with cable-release in hand.
Pickings from puffins by Marcello Calandrini. It was the puffins in particular that Marcello had come to photograph on the Farne Islands, Northumberland, renowned for its breeding colonies of seabirds. ‘I was busy photographing a group of puffins,’ says Marcello, ‘but sensed a commotion to one side – a gaggle of black-headed gulls attempting to steal sand eels out of the beak of a returning puffin. Framing the scene in an instant, he pushed the shutter just once before the puffin escaped with its catch intact. ‘Everything came together in that single moment,’ he adds, ‘action, composition, soft light and, most important, a pin-sharp puffin eye.’
Lion and his little nipper by Andrew Shoeman. ‘Despite years in the bush, I have not seen many male lions who were tolerant of their cubs,’ says Andrew. ‘This male, however, was an exception.’ His pride – 20 lionesses and their cubs – had spent the day asleep under an acacia tree in the Serengeti, Tanzania. He, meanwhile, had rested a distance away. Watching the cubs wake up and start to play, he began to walk over to join them. One cub ran out to meet him but then jumped at his hindquarters and sunk its claws in. The lion allowed the cub to hang on for a good few paces – giving Andrew the expressive shot he wanted – before finally snarling and shaking it off.
Catch of the day by Jordan Calame. One unusually chilly morning, while walking along a deserted shoreline in Stump Pass State Park, Florida, Jordan spotted a single dorsal fin surfacing just offshore. Then more and more fins sliced the surface. Sprinting down the beach, camera in hand, he headed waist-deep into the icy surf. ‘I stood in awe, with my finger fixed to the shutter release,’ says Jordan, ‘while a pod of seven dolphins chased their breakfast – yellow snappers. The dolphins came closer and closer until they were just feet away.’ The spell was broken by the appearance of a fishing boat that drifted through them. The pod dispersed and Jordan headed back to his car to review his pictures, still in awe of his experience.
A miracle of monarchs by Axel Gomille. Millions of monarch butterflies migrate down North America to spend the winter in the small, cold but sheltered forest site of El Rosario, high in the mountains of central Mexico. ‘The sheer density is unbelievable,’ says Axel. ‘I had never seen anything like this before. It was breathtaking. They landed on my fingers, my cap, my camera – everywhere.’ In March, as the temperature increases, the monarchs start to become more active and the migration northward begins. After warming up in the first rays of the early-morning sun, the roosting monarchs fly down to drink: they need water to make use of their tiny fat reserves. Axel’s aim was to capture both the butterflies’ movement and their rich colours ‘lit up against the dark forest backdrop’. This required lying almost in the puddle, so that the sun lit the butterflies from the side, highlighting the ones in the air. ‘When they take off, it sounds like wind.’
The big four by Tony Wu. Tony spent an unforgettable morning snorkelling above a large group of sperm whales off the Caribbean island of Dominica. ‘They spent much of their time at the surface of the ocean, rubbing up against each other, vocalizing and gathering in raft formations – often appearing as if they were playing,’ says Tony. ‘Though they were preoccupied, the whales seemed to take an interest in me from time to time.’ When he took this photograph, four were swimming directly up towards him. They paused about 10 metres (33 feet) below the surface, and as Tony dived down to have a better look, he could feel their clicking sonar resonating through his body as they checked him out. Then suddenly they surfaced, and Tony found himself in the middle of the four enormous animals. ‘As I swam along with them and we made eye contact, it seemed as if, however briefly, they were socializing with me.’
Giant Beachcomber by Thomas P. Peschak. Aldabra giant tortoises normally graze on ‘tortoise turf’, a blend of herbs and grasses that grows close to the ground in response to being cropped. Often, though, the tortoises will wander onto the beaches to eat washed-up seedpods. This female, who is probably at least 100 years old, regularly forages along the beach in front of a research station on Aldabra in the Seychelles. ‘Tortoises are known to have made sea crossings between islands,’ says Tom, ‘and so I was pleased to be able to use the ocean as a backdrop. I lay in her path on the sand, using an extreme wide-angle lens. The moment I took the shot, I had to roll out of her way to avoid her clambering right over me.’
Sunset moment by Olivier Puccia. Squeezed out of their forest homes by deforestation and the spread of human habitation, Hanuman langurs have become part of urban life in many parts of India. Revering them as the reincarnation of their Hindu monkey-like deity Hanuman, locals often feed them. Olivier visited a hilltop temple – a Hanuman langur hotspot – overlooking Ramtek in Maharashtra, western India. As the sun began to set, he tried to find the highest point from which to admire the glorious scene. Just below, this mother and baby were wrapped in each other’s arms, staring across the valley. ‘It was a touching moment,’ says Olivier, ‘as though they were appreciating the sunset together.’
Paris life by Laurent Geslin. Laurent set out to photograph wildlife in the heart of Paris. He encountered kestrels, sparrowhawks and even kingfishers, but what proved to be the challenge was giving them a sense of place. When he discovered there were rabbits living in a park close to the Arc de Triomphe, he set out to photograph them after nightfall. He first shot them with the famous monument in the background. He then realized that there was a far more interesting cityscape right behind him – La Défense business area had the contemporary edge that he was looking for. Laurent got on his belly, and the rabbits obliged by keeping their ears up, silhouetted by the bright lights of modern Paris.
Lookout by Ken Dyball. Ken had got to know this caracal well. Living in Kenya’s Masai Mara, he was a young male, whose mother appeared to be trying to encourage him to become independent. ‘She would leave him alone for long periods of time,’ says Ken, ‘presumably hoping he would learn to fend for himself. He slept in a den in the ground during the day, emerging in the evening to wait for her.’ Early one morning, as Ken explored the spot where he had last seen the caracal, he heard the thunder of hooves. As a herd of wildebeest galloped past, pursued by hyenas, the terrified young caracal shot out of the grass and up the nearest tree. He did the right thing. ‘They stampeded straight over his den,’ says Ken.