The thrilling, funny and scarcely believable stories behind the amazing photographs from the 2020 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

A tiger enjoying a priceless scratch and an extraordinary glimpse of a volcano in action are among the winners of the 56th Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

Each year, the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition elicits some truly awe-inspiring images from around the world.

And in its 56th year, the various lockdown conditions imposed around the world don’t seem to have made any difference to the quality of the images — and especially in the case of the 56th the overall winner, Sergey Gorshkov. The Russian photographer spent 11 months tracking a female Siberian tiger before capturing this unforgettable image of her in her native habitat.

Below, we tell the story of this and several other of our favourites, with a selection of more pictures below. It truly is a remarkable display of nature.

The photographs on this page represent the very best of the 49,000 entries, and all are on display at the Natural History Museum as of October 16 — along with many more. And if you fancy entering next year’s competition, you can do so from Monday 19 October, with entries closing at 11.30am GMT on 10 December.

Overall winner and Animals in their Environment winner: The embrace by Sergey Gorshkov, Russia

The Embrace © Sergey Gorshkov / WPOTY.

Recommended videos for you

This Amur or Siberian tiger was pictured at the Land of the Leopard National Park in the far eastern part of Russia by Sergei Gorshkov. These beautiful creatures roam hundreds of miles so Sergei knew it would be difficult, but he was determined to capture one in its native habitat. He scoured the forest for signs — scent, hairs, urine or scratch marks — before installing his first proper camera trap in January 2019, opposite this grand fir. 11 months later, in November, that got the picture he’d dreamt of.

Young Photographer title winner and 15-17yrs winner: The fox that got the goose by Liina Heikkinen

The fox that got the goose © Liina Heikkinen/WPOTY.

Liina actually captured this picture while she was still just 13 and on holiday with her parents on Lehtisaari Island, near Helsinki. She and her father spent a whole day watching the family of foxes, who were living on the outskirts of the island’s city suburbs.

The cubs still needed feeding by the parents, and mostly they brought voles and mice — but at around 7pm the mother vixen arrived with this barnacle goose. A huge fight broke out between the cubs; the eventual winner was so excited that he urinated over his dinner, before dragging it away and into this crevice to eat it away from his yelping siblings.

Animal portraits winner: The pose by Mogens Trolle

The pose © Mogens Trolle / WPOTY

The Zen-like calm on display from this probiscis monkey is no freak occurrence: this chap is a regular visitor to the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary in Sabah, Borneo, according to Mogens, and he really is ‘the most laid-back character’ according to the Dane. Mogens has spent five years photographing primates, but has never come across one quite like this. ‘It’s quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen on another monkey,’ he adds.

Behaviour — Invertebrates winner: A tale of two wasps by Frank Deschandol

A tale of two wasps © Frank Deschandol / WPOTY

This picture of a red-banded sand wasp (left) and a cuckoo wasp makes both look huge — in fact, they’re tiny, with the cuckoo wasp being just 6mm long. Frank prepared long and hard to capture this image of the pair about to enter next-door nest holes near his home in Normandy. A conventional camera shutter would have been too slow to capture the image — instead he set up an infrared beam that, when broken by a wasp, triggered a superfast shutter system he had built using an old computer hard drive. Absolutely ingenious.

Earths Environments winner: Etna’s river of fire by Luciano Gaudenzio

Etna’s river of fire © Luciano Gaudenzio / WPOTY

‘Like an open wound on the rough and wrinkled skin of a huge dinosaur’ is how Italian photographer Luciano Gaudenzio described this gash in the side of Mount Etna that revealed a rushing lava tunnel below. Luciano and several colleagues spent hours on a difficult and risky climb up the mountain, through choking steam and as close as they dared get to an astonishing wall of heat. This vent was freshly opened at the time — he had been in nearby Stromboli when he heard about it, and caught the first ferry across to Sicily. The journey there was only part of the job: he had to wait until the ‘blue hour’, just after sunset, to get the ‘perfect moment’ when the flow was contrasted against the gaseous mist on the mountainside, before climbing back down in the gathering gloom.

Our favourites from among the other winners

Eleonora’s gift © Alberto Fantoni / WPOTY. Alberto was watching falcons from a hide on San Pietro Island, just off Sardinia, from spot where he could photograph the adults on their cliff-top perch. He couldn’t see the nest, which was a little way down the cliff in a crevice in the rocks, but he could watch the male (much smaller and with yellow around his nostrils) pass on his prey, observing that he always seemed reluctant to give up his catch without a struggle.

The last bite ©Ripan Biswas / WPOTY. The giant riverine tiger beetle was feeding on a colony of weaver ants when one bit into the beetle’s slender hind leg. The beetle swiftly turned and, with its large, curved mandibles, snipped the ant in two, but the ant’s head and upper body remained firmly attached. ‘The beetle kept pulling at the ant’s leg,’ says Ripan, ‘trying to rid itself of the ant’s grip, but it couldn’t quite reach its head.’ 

A mean mouthful © Sam Sloss / WPOTY. It was only when Sam downloaded his photos that he saw tiny eyes peeping out of this clownfish’s mouth. It was a ‘tongue-eating louse’, a parasitic isopod that swims in through the gills as a male, changes sex, grows legs and attaches itself to the base of the tongue, sucking blood. When the tongue withers and drops off, the isopod takes its place. Its presence may weaken its host, but the clownfish can continue to feed.

Life in the balance © Jaime Culebras / WPOTY. Jaime’s determination to share his passion for Manduriacu glass frogs had driven him to walk for four hours, in heavy rain, through the forest to reach the frogs’ streams in Manduriacu Reserve. But the frogs were elusive and the downpour was growing heavier and heavier. As he turned back, he was thrilled to spot one small frog clinging to a branch, its eyes like shimmering mosaics. Not only was it eating – he had photographed glass frogs eating only once before – but it was also a newly discovered species. 

When mother says run © Shanyuan Li / WPOTY. Pallas’s cats, or manuls, are normally solitary and hard to find — very hard. Shanyuan worked for six years on the steppes of the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau in northwest China to get this shot. His patience was rewarded when the three kittens came out to play while their mother kept her eye on a Tibetan fox lurking nearby. Their broad, flat heads, with small, low‑set ears, together with their colour and markings, help them stay hidden when hunting in open country, and their thick coats keep them alive in the extreme winters. In the clear air, against a soft background, Shanyuan caught their expressions in a rarely seen moment of family life, when their mother had issued a warning to hurry back to the safety of the lair.