The winning images from the Natural History Museum's 53rd Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition will make you laugh and cry.

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Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017

It was the start of the rainy season, but though the night was humid, there were no clouds, and under the starry sky, the termite mounds now twinkled with intense green lights. For three seasons, Marcio had camped out in Brazil’s cerrado region, on the vast treeless savannah of Emas National Park, waiting for the right conditions to capture the light display. It happens when winged termites take to the sky to mate. Click beetle larvae living in the outer layers of the termite mounds poke out and flash their bioluminescent ‘headlights’ to lure in prey – the flying termites. After days of rain, Marcio was finally able to capture the phenomenon, but he also got a surprise bonus. Out of the darkness ambled a giant anteater, oblivious of Marcio in his hide, and began to attack the tall, concrete-mud mound with its powerful claws, after the termites living deep inside.

A few weeks ago we ran a piece looking at some of the shortlisted images from the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

Well, the winners have now been announced – and there are some truly wonderful pictures.

Not all are easy to digest, however, and the overall winning image is at the top of that list. ‘Memorial to a Species’, taken by South African photographer Brent Stirton, is a shocking depiction of the senseless brutality of the trade in rhino horns.

Brent found the de-horned black rhino in South Africa’s Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve. Once the most numerous rhino species, black rhinos are now critically endangered due to poaching and the illegal international trade.

Sadly, this was just one of 30 occasions on which he witnessed the aftermath of this barbaric crime – but the museum’s director Sir Michael Dixon hopes that by highlighting such an image, things can change. ‘Like the critically endangered black rhinoceros, blue whales were once hunted to the brink of extinction, but humanity acted on a global scale to protect them,’ he said. 

‘This shocking picture of an animal butchered for its horns is a call to action for us all.’

Thankfully, not all the pictures are so depressing – many are celebrations of the joys of life, including the picture taken by the overall Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Daniël Nelson, who caught an off-guard moment with a gorilla at a national park in the Congo.

Ashleigh Scully’s winning picture in the 11-14 years old category is even funnier – a fox’s bottom protruding from snow after a failed attempt to catch some prey in Yellowstone during the winter.

We also particularly loved Marcio Cabral’s category-winning picture of a busy termite mound in Brazil – with an anteater who seems unable to believe his luck at having caught the best dinner of his lifetime.

And it has to be said, luck – as well as skill and patience – plays a major role in capturing such images. Anthony Berber was lucky to capture his small mauve stinger jellyfish in the wild, for example. But to grab a picture of it while a lobster larva was riding on its back was truly astonishing.

To see all the pictures yourself, visit the exhibition at the Natural History Museum in Kensington – the exhibition opens Friday 20 October and closes on Monday 28 May.  And if you come away thinking you could do better yourself? Well, entries for the 2018 edition of the competition, #WPY54, open on Monday 23 October.


Winner 2017, 11-14 years old: Stuck in © Ashleigh Scully

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017

Deep snow had blanketed the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park, and the day was cold and overcast. This female American red fox was hunting beside the road, stepping quietly across the crusty surface of the snow. Every so often she would stop, stare, tilt her head from side to side and listen intently for the movement of prey – most likely a vole – beneath the snow.

Ashleigh was also poised, her camera lens resting on a beanbag out of the back window of the car. Just as the fox came parallel with the car, she stopped, listened, crouched and then leapt high in the air, punching down through the snow, forefeet and nose first and legs upended. She remained bottom-up for about 10 seconds, waving her tail slightly back and forth before using her back legs to pull out of the hole.

Ashleigh, who has been photographing foxes for many years, though mostly near her home, captured the whole sequence. ‘It was funny to see but also humbling to observe how hard the fox had to work to find a meal. I really wanted her to be successful.’ Unfortunately, she wasn’t. But then the image, says Ashleigh, ‘illustrates the harsh reality of winter life in Yellowstone’.


Grand title winner 2017: Memorial to a species © Brent Stirton – Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017

The killers were probably from a local community but working to order. Entering the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve at night, they shot the black rhino bull using a silencer. Working fast, they hacked off the two horns and escaped before being discovered by the reserve’s patrol.

The horns would have been sold to a middleman and smuggled out of South Africa, probably via Mozambique, to China or Vietnam.


Winner 2017, Animals in Their Environment: The night raider © Marcio Cabral

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017

It was the start of the rainy season, but though the night was humid, there were no clouds, and under the starry sky, the termite mounds now twinkled with intense green lights. For three seasons, Marcio had camped out in Brazil’s cerrado region, on the vast treeless savannah of Emas National Park, waiting for the right conditions to capture the light display. It happens when winged termites take to the sky to mate. Click beetle larvae living in the outer layers of the termite mounds poke out and flash their bioluminescent ‘headlights’ to lure in prey – the flying termites.

After days of rain, Marcio was finally able to capture the phenomenon, but he also got a surprise bonus. Out of the darkness ambled a giant anteater, oblivious of Marcio in his hide, and began to attack the tall, concrete-mud mound with its powerful claws, after the termites living deep inside.


Winner 2017, Behaviour – Mammals: Giant gathering © Tony Wu

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017

Dozens of sperm whales mingled noisily off Sri Lanka’s northeast coast, stacked as far down as Tony could see. This was part of something special – a congregation of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of social units, like a kind of gathering of the clans.

Sperm whales are intelligent, long-lived and gregarious, and groups play, forage, interact and communicate in different ways and have distinctive cultures. Aggregations like this could be a critical part of their rich, social lives but are rarely reported.


Winner 2017, Wildlife Photojournalist – Single image: Palm-oil survivors © Aaron Gekoski

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017

In eastern Sabah, on the island of Borneo, three generations of Bornean elephants edge their way across the terraces of an oil-palm plantation being cleared for replanting. Bornean elephants – regarded as a subspecies of the Asian elephant that may have been isolated on the island of Borneo for more than 300,000 years – is estimated to number no more than 1,000–2,000.

Elephants form strong social bonds, and females often stay together for their entire lives. Here, the group probably comprises a matriarch, two of her daughters and her grand-calf.

With the light fading fast, Bertie acted quickly to frame an image that symbolizes the impact that our insatiable demand for palm oil (used in half of the products on supermarket shelves) has on wildlife. ‘They huddled together, dwarfed by a desolate and desecrated landscape. A haunting image,’ he says.


Winner 2017, 10 years and under: The grip of the gulls © Ekaterina Bee

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017

Like all her family, five-and-a-half-year-old Ekaterina is fascinated by nature, and she has also been using a camera since she was four years old. But on the boat trip off the coast of central Norway, her focus was not on the white tailed sea eagles that the others were photographing but on the cloud of herring gulls that followed the small boat as it left the harbour.

They were after food, and as soon as Ekaterina threw them some bread, they surrounded her. At first she was slightly scared by their boldness and beaks but soon became totally absorbed in watching and photographing them, lost in the noise, wingbeats and colours of feet and beaks in the whirl of white.


Winner 2017, Plants and fungi: Tapestry of life © Dorin Bofan

It was a quiet morning with flat light as Dorin stood alone on the shore of the fjord. He was contemplating the immense landscape bounding Hamnøy in the Lofoten Islands, Norway, when here and there, the clouds parted, allowing shafts of sunlight to fall on to the great walls of metamorphic rock, lighting up the swathes of vegetation coating the canyon and its slopes.

Drawn to the gentle curve at the base of the rock face – like the ‘moss-covered trunk of a veteran tree in a damp ancient wood’ – Dorin composed his picture, waiting until a break in the clouds yielded this brief moment in a timeless landscape, cloaked in a tapestry of Arctic-alpine vegetation.


Winner 2017, Behaviour: Invertebrates: Crab surprise © Justin Gilligan

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017

Winner 2017, Behaviour – Birds: The incubator bird © Gerry Pearce

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017

Most birds incubate their eggs with their bodies. Not so the Australian brush turkey, one of a handful of birds – the megapodes – that do it with an oven. Only the males oversee incubation. In this case, a male had chosen to create his nest mound near Gerry’s home in Sydney, bordering Garigal National Park.

It took a month to build, out of leaves, soil and other debris, at which point it was more than a metre high.Gerry spent four months watching the male and his mound, every day from dawn. After seven weeks, and despite egg raids by a large lace monitor lizard, at least a quarter of the 20 or so eggs hatched.


Winner 2017, Earth’s Environments: The ice monster © Laurent Ballesta

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017


Winner 2017, Behaviour – Amphibians and Reptiles: The ancient ritual © Brian Skerry

 


Grand title winner 2017, Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year: The good life © Daniel Nelson

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017

Daniël met Caco in the forest of Odzala National Park in the Republic of Congo. A three hour trek through dense vegetation with skilled trackers led him to where the 16 strong Neptuno family was feeding and to a close encounter with one of the few habituated groups of western lowland gorillas.

In his compelling portrait of Caco – relaxed in his surroundings – Daniël captured the inextricable similarity between these wild apes and humans and the importance of the forest on which they depend.


Winner 2017, Animal Portraits: Contemplation © Peter Delaney

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017

Winner 2017, Underwater: The jellyfish jockey © Anthony Berberian

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017

In open ocean far off Tahiti, French Polynesia, Anthony regularly dives at night in water more than 2 kilometres (1¼ miles) deep. His aim is to photograph deep-sea creatures – tiny ones, that migrate to the surface under cover of darkness to feed on plankton.

This lobster larva (on top), just half an inch across, with spiny legs, a flattened, transparent body and eyes on stalks, was at a stage when its form is called a phyllosoma. Its spindly legs were gripping the dome of a small mauve stinger jellyfish. In several hundred night dives, Anthony met only a few lobster larvae, and it took many shots of the jellyfish jockey to get a composition he was happy with – a portrait of a creature rarely observed alive in its natural surroundings.


Winner 2017, Black and white: Polar pas de deux © Eilo Elvinger

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017

From her ship, anchored in the icy waters off Svalbard, in Arctic Norway, Eilo spotted a polar bear and her two-year-old cub in the distance, slowly drawing closer. Polar bears are known as hunters, mainly of seals – they can smell prey from nearly a kilometre (more than half a mile) away – but they are also opportunists.

Nearing the ship, they were diverted to a patch of snow soaked in leakage from the vessel’s kitchen and began to lick it. ‘I was ashamed of our contribution to the immaculate landscape’, says Eilo, ‘and of how this influenced the bears’ behaviour.’