September 24, 2021

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Spearheading Arts Excellence

Up to our necks: Swimming cheetahs commended by Wildlife Photographer of the Year

9 min read

An impressive selection of highly commended images from this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year have been released in anticipation of the announcement of the winners on 15 October. As you will see, the standard is very high (and these aren’t even the winners!).

From lynx making a comeback to a striking ecological disaster and narwhal shrimp communicating at great depths, there is an incredible range in the unique and fascinating images for this year’s competition. The photographs are a compelling reminder of the importance of the variety, variability and vulnerability of life on Earth.

Now in its 57th year, Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum London, and is the museum’s showcase for the world’s best nature photography.

We are very excited to bring these to you now in this new online gallery.

The greatest swim

Monstrous rains in Masai Mara Kenya during January of 2020 caused one of the major rivers to flood and become larger and more violent than ever before. The world’s only recorded coalition of five male cheetahs were looking to cross this river in terrifyingly powerful currents. It seemed a task doomed to failure, with many famous cheetahs dying trying to cross much fewer daunting waters.
The lead cheetah looked straight at the photographer during the crossing while gritting teeth with swimming effort, finally making it across the river safely shortly after. Photo by Buddhilini de Soyza/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Apollo landing

Photo by /Wildlife Photographer of the Year

As dusk starts to fall on Haut-Jura Regional Nature Park, on the French‑Swiss border, an Apollo butterfly (Parnassius apollo) settles on an oxeye daisy. The Apollo, a large mountain butterfly with a wingspan up to 90 millimetres, is now one of Europe’s most threatened butterflies. Photo by Emelin Dupieux/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Toxic Design

Gheorghe Popa

This eye-catching detail of a small river in the Geamana Valley, within Romania’s Apuseni Mountains, took the photographer by surprise. Though he had been visiting the region for several years, using his drone to capture images of the valley’s ever‑changing patterns, he had never come across such a striking combination of colours and shapes. But these designs, perhaps made sharp by recent heavy rain, are the result of an ugly truth. In the late 1970s, more than 400 families living in Geamana were forced to leave to make way for waste flowing from the nearby Rosia Poieni mine, a mine exploiting one of the largest deposits of copper ore and gold in Europe. The picturesque valley became a ‘tailings pond’ filled with an acidic cocktail, containing pyrite (fool’s gold), iron and other heavy metals, laced with cyanide. These toxic materials have infiltrated the groundwater and threatened waterways more widely, and the settlement was gradually engulfed with millions of tonnes of toxic waste. Photo by Gheorghe Popa/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Raw moment

Photo by Lara Jackson/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Perhaps due to inexperience, this young lioness had not made a clean kill and had begun eating a still-struggling wildebeest. With a paw holding down her prey, she gave the photographer an intense stare. Lions’ primary hunting strategy is stalking, but this one had just been resting in the long grass, when the wildebeest wandered by. Though most successful when hunting with a pride, a single lion can bring down an animal twice its weight. A lion would usually pull it down backwards or sideways and then lunge for the throat or nose, gripping firmly until the victim could no longer cause injury with flailing horns or hooves. This arresting portrait captures the rawness of the moment and the intensity of the lioness’s stare. Photo by Lara Jackson/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Deep feelers

Photo by Laurent Ballesta

In deep water off the French Mediterranean coast, among cold-water black coral, a vibrant community of thousands of narwhal shrimps (Genus Plesionika) gathered for this amazing image. Their legs weren’t touching, but their exceptionally long, highly mobile outer antennae were. It appeared that each shrimp was in touch with its neighbours and that, potentially, signals were being sent across a far‑reaching network. Against the deep-blue of the open water, floating among the feathery black coral (white when living), the translucent narwhal shrimps looked exceptionally beautiful, with their red and white stripes, long orange legs and sweeping antennae. Photo by Laurent Ballesta/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Lynx on the threshold

Coinciding with te arrival of the cold and the next zeal getting closer, the juveniles are thrown out of the territory. This lynx, lineage descendant of a female coming from a breeding center will conquest new territories. The mother only accept in some cases the presence during the next year if the cub is a female. Location: Eastern Sierra Morena, Spain. Photo by Sergio Marijuan/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Coinciding with the arrival of the cold and the next winter getting closer, Lynx juveniles are forced to move away from the mother’s territory. This lynx, lineage descendant of a female coming from a breeding centre is now on the hunt for new territories. The mother will only accept the presence of juveniles during the following year if the cub is a female. Photographed at Eastern Sierra Morena, Spain. Photo by Sergio Marijuan/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Natural Magnetism

Photo by Jaime Culebras/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

When the photographer spotted this tarantula hawk wasp dragging a tarantula across his kitchen floor, in Quito, Ecuador, he rushed to get his camera. By the time he got back, the giant wasp, nearly 4 centimetres long, was hoisting its victim up the side of the fridge. Tarantula hawks are said to have among the most painful stings on the planet, deadly when used on a spider. They actually feed on nectar and pollen, but the females also hunt tarantulas as food for their carnivorous larvae. The wasp injected her victim with venom via a sharp, curved sting, then dragged it to her nest, where she lays a single egg on its body. When the egg hatches, the larva burrows into the spider’s body and eats it alive, eventually emerging as an adult. Photo by Jaime Culebras/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Net Loss

© Audun Rikardsen, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

In the wake of a fishing boat, a slick of dead and dying herrings covers the surface of the sea off the coast of Norway. The boat had caught too many fish, and when the encircling wall of the purse-seine net was closed and winched up, it broke, releasing tons of crushed and suffocated animals. The photographer was on board a Norwegian coastguard vessel, on a project to satellite‑tag killer whales. The whales follow the migrating herrings and are frequently found alongside fishing boats, where they feed on fish that leak out of the nets. For the Norwegian coastguard, responsible for surveillance of the fishing fleet, this spectacle of carnage and waste was effectively a crime scene. So Audun’s photographs became the visual evidence in a court case that resulted in a conviction and fine for the owner of the boat. Overfishing is one of the biggest threats to ocean ecosystems, and according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, more than 60 per cent of fisheries today are either ‘fully fished’ or collapsed, and almost 30 per cent are at their limit (‘overfished’).  Photo by Audun Rikardsen/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Lockdown chicks

Photo by Gagana Mendis Wickramasinghe/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Three rose-ringed parakeet chicks pop their heads out of the nest hole as their father returns with food. Watching was 10‑year-old Gagana, on the balcony of his parents’ bedroom, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The hole was at eye level with the balcony, in a dead areca-nut palm in the backyard, which his parents had deliberately left standing to attract wildlife. Also known as ring‑necked parakeets, these medium-sized parrots are native to Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan as well as a band of sub‑Saharan Africa, but feral populations are now found in many countries including the UK. These are often found in urban settings, where they sometimes even breed in holes in brick walls. Photo by Gagana Mendis Wickramasinghe/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

For more images, check out these amazing image galleries:

Storm Fox

© Jonny Armstrong, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

This fox was busy searching in the shallows for salmon carcasses, mainly sockeye salmon that had died after spawning. The vixen was one of only two red foxes resident on the tiny island in Karluk Lake, on Alaska’s Kodiak Island, and she was surprisingly bold.  She came very close to the photographer, who managed to take advantage of the atmospheric light created by a storm rolling in. Photo by Jonny Armstrong/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

A Helping Hand

After a good feed, a rescued female Grey-headed Flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) pup is comforted and soothed to sleep on what is called a 'mumma roll’, in a wildlife carer’s home. Baby Grey-headed Flying-foxes seem to find comfort in clinging to these ‘mumma roles’, and really like clinging to their carers as well. Grey-headed Flying-foxes are currently listed as vulnerable to extinction with significant threats including continued habitat destruction and increasing heat stress events. Location: Black Rock Animal Shelter, Beaumaris, Victoria, Australia. Digital adjustments: include tone (e.g. exposure and contrast), presence, burning, dodging, cropping, sharpening, noise reduction.

After a good feed, a rescued female grey-headed flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) pup is comforted and soothed to sleep on what is called a ‘mumma roll’, in a wildlife carer’s home. Baby grey-headed flying-foxes seem to find comfort in clinging to these mumma roles, and really like clinging to their carers as well.
These Flying-foxes are currently listed as vulnerable to extinction with significant threats including continued habitat destruction and increasing heat stress events. Photographed at the Black Rock Animal Shelter, Beaumaris, Victoria, Australia.
Photo by Douglas Gimesy/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Mushroom magic

Only by wandering the Australian highland Wet Tropics at night battling leeches and mosquitoes is this photographer rewarded by the magical glow of this inedible bioluminescent mushroom, otherwise known as ghost fungus (Omphalotus nidiformis). A full moon in February illuminated the damp rainforest that hosted these glowing fungi one hot and humid summer’s night. This magical sight is more often seen in the southern parts of Australia. But in rare instances, this rather large, irregularly shaped fungus growing and glowing in dense clusters can be found at the base of dead tree trunks after strong monsoonal downpours in the tropical rainforests of the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland, Australia. This glowing mushroom is one of the best-known bioluminescent fungi in Australia. Bioluminescent mushroom light is created by a chemical reaction. A substance called luciferin reacts with an enzyme, luciferase, causing the luciferin to oxidise, with the consequent emission of light. Focus stack merged from eight individual images, stacked with ZereneStacker. Photo by Juergen Freund/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Only by wandering the Australian highland Wet Tropics at night battling leeches and mosquitoes is this photographer rewarded by the magical glow of this inedible bioluminescent mushroom, otherwise known as ghost fungus (Omphalotus nidiformis). A full Moon in February illuminated the damp rainforest that hosted these glowing fungi one hot and humid summer’s night. This magical sight is more often seen in the southern parts of Australia. But in rare instances, this rather large, irregularly shaped fungus growing and glowing in dense clusters can be found at the base of dead tree trunks after strong monsoonal downpours in the tropical rainforests of the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland, Australia. Photo by Juergen Freund/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Up for grabs

This was a training session for the juvenile white-tailed kite (the colorful one at the bottom). Dad brought in a freshly caught mouse. He suspended in the air for the newly fledged baby to catch the prey in midair. Experienced kites prefer to come from the back because it’s much easier to complete the transfer as they can coordinate their speeds and positions. As inexperienced as this baby was, it came from the side, which left him with one swing of a shot in a four-dimensional world! This was much harder because it’s not easy to coordinate with each other when they flew in different directions! The baby did his best but fell an inch short of grabbing the cute little mouse before he started dropping. Note that the mouse was still alive. Dad sometimes intentionally brought life prey for training. Well, the story after the shot? The lucky baby was able to circle back and got his rightful food before his siblings jumped in for a fight! Most of the times, one mistake like this meant a win by one of the other two siblings. It took me three years to get a close up shot like this, because these actions can happen anywhere and are always too far away. It’s difficult to get the action, the distance, the weather and lighting, the angles of the individuals all right at the same time. Not to mention they may start from a clear view and quickly move behind trees. Taken in Orange County, California, USA. This was wildlife behaving naturally in the wild. No bating or any human intervention. Photo by Jack Zhi/Wild

This was a training session for the juvenile white-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus). The father (flying above) held a freshly-caught mouse and suspended it for the newly fledged baby to catch the prey in midair. Experienced kites prefer to come from the back because it’s much easier to complete the transfer as they coordinate their speeds and positions. The baby did his best the catch the mouse but fell an inch short of grabbing the live prey before it started dropping towards the ground. The lucky baby was able to circle back and got his rightful food before his siblings could steal it from him. Photographed in Orange County, California, USA. Photo by Jack Zhi//Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The nurturing wetland

© Rakesh Pulapa, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Houses on the edge of Kakinada city reach the estuary, buffered from the sea by the remains of a mangrove swamp. Development has already destroyed 90 per cent of mangroves, salt-tolerant trees and shrubs, along this eastern coastal area of Andhra Pradesh, India. But mangroves are now recognized as vital for coastal life, human and non-human. Their roots trap organic matter, providing carbon storage, slow incoming tides, protect communities against storms and create nurseries for numerous fish and other species that fishing communities rely on. Photo by Rakesh Pulapa/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The gripping end

Photo by Wei Fu/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Clutched in the coils of a golden tree snake, a red-spotted tokay gecko (Gekko gecko) stays clamped onto its attacker’s head in a last attempt at defence. Named for their to‑kay call, tokay geckos are large, up to 40 centimetres long, feisty and have powerful jaws. But they are also a favourite prey of the golden tree snake. This snake, common in the lowland forests of South and Southeast Asia, also hunts lizards, amphibians, birds and even bats, and is one of five snakes that can ‘fly’, expanding its ribs and flattening its body to glide from branch to branch. This gristly scene was photographed in Bangkok, Thailand, when the photographer was alerted by the loud croaking and hissing warnings of the gecko. It was being approached by the golden tree snake, coiled on a branch above and slowly letting itself down. As the snake struck, injecting its venom, the gecko turned and clamped onto the snake’s upper jaw. Within minutes, the snake had dislodged the gecko, coiled tightly around it and was squeezing it to death. While still hanging from the loop of its tail, the slender snake then began the laborious process of swallowing the gecko whole. Photo by Wei Fu/Wildlife Photographer of the Year