Sun. Sep 25th, 2022

Now in its 58th year, the world-renowned Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition has released a preview of highly-commended images that have made it into the final stretch of the London Natural History Museum’s showcase for the world’s 100 best nature photos.

An underwater wonderland, a disappearing giraffe, a curious polar bear looking out the window and a tree-frog pool party are a few of the captivating entries included in this first cut that showcases wildlife photography and photojournalism as an art form and challenges us to consider both our place in the natural world and our responsibility to protect it.

This year, the Natural History Museum in London will unveil a new, redesigned Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition on October 14 featuring those 100 most remarkable photographs illustrating the precious beauty of our planet.

The 2022 competition attracted entries from photographers of all ages and experience from 93 countries. Each entry was judged anonymously based on its creativity, originality, and technical excellence by an international panel of industry experts.

Among the newly-released Highly Commended images, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year organizers spotlight “Tiina Törmänen’s otherworldly encounter with fish ‘flying’ through cloud-like algae, seven-year-old Joshua Cox’s portrait of a stag in Richmond Park, U.K., the contrast between the natural world and human infrastructure artfully captured by Jose Fragozo in Nairobi, and Srikanth Mannepuri’s sobering look at the scale of unsustainable fishing.”

“Captured by some of the best photography talent from around the world, the 100 photographs encourage curiosity, connection and wonder,” Doug Gurr, Director of the Natural History Museum notes. “These inspiring images convey human impact on the natural world in a way that words cannot – from the urgency of declining biodiversity to the inspiring bounce back of a protected species.”

The winning images, including the prestigious Grand Title Award and Young Grand Title Award, will be announced on October 11, 2022.

The exhibition at Natural History Museum opens on October 14 and runs until July 2, 2023.

The opening for entries to the 59th Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition begins on October 17, 2022, and closes on December 8.

The big ape and the mongoose pup

The sight of a young male bonobo gently holding a mongoose pup deep in the rainforest was highly unusual. The photographer was tracking a group of these endangered great apes that are being studied by Barbara Fruth of the Max-Planck Society.

He recalls setting out “before light,” wading “chest-deep through flooded forest,” and frequently walking 20 kilometers a day. ‘The bonobo held and stroked the little mongoose for more than an hour,” Ziegler said. The situation probably had a darker beginning. Bonobos are omnivores and eat mainly fruit but occasionally they hunt. The mongoose pup – eventually released unharmed – may have been taken when its mother was killed.

The photographer was thrilled on her annual lake snorkel to meet a school of inquisitive European perch. Over the previous three years, she had found only dead fish.

Submerged in the surreal scene, she framed the orange-finned fish flying through clouds of pink-tinged algae. Although it created a beautiful scene, excessive algal growth, a result of climate change and warming waters, can cause problems for aquatic wildlife as it uses up oxygen and blocks out sunlight.

Jose Fragozo captures the contrast between the natural world and human infrastructure with this giraffe, dwarfed by the giant pillars of Kenya’s new Standard Gauge Railway,

Located at the edge of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi National Park is a safe haven for hundreds of species of mammals, birds, reptiles and plants. In 2019, Kenya completed the so-called Phase 2A Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), building a six-kilometer railway stretch on 178 pillars through the middle of the Park. Conservationists and environmentalists have warned that the impacts of SGR on the park will be devastating.

Nairobi National Park has already been affected by rapid urbanization, infrastructure development and rising land prices around it. This picture shows a giraffe running between railway pillars because it was likely to feel the noise and the vibration of an approaching train.

Plagued by mosquitoes, Güell waded chest-deep into the murky water, where a gathering of male gliding treefrogs were calling.

At dawn, thousands of females arrived at the pool to mate and lay their eggs on overhanging palm fronds. Here, unmated males search for female mates.

These spectacular, mass-breeding events occur only in a few remote locations several times a year. Each female lays some 200 eggs, creating huge egg masses.

Eventually the tadpoles will drop into the water below.

Two dippers engage in a hotly-contested argument for prime space on a dipping rock.

Dippers use ‘dipping’ rocks as a launch pad to scout rivers before diving down to hunt mayfly and caddisfly larvae and small fish, swallowing tiny catches while submerged.

The photo provides a sobering look at the scale of unsustainable fishing. The photographer was shocked to see so many recently-caught marlin and sailfish in a single place in one morning.

To show the scale of the fish market, he used a drone to take the image from a bird’s-eye view.

Sailfish and marlin are top ocean predators essential to ecosystems. Globally, 85% of fish stocks are currently overexploited by humans. Without urgent efforts to protect marine habitats and create truly sustainable fishing practices, we will soon begin to loose species forever.

Ten, then eight mink kittens trapped in a nesting box. American mink kits fight for space in small cages on a fur farm. For the photographer, it was critical to document cruelty in order to provoke change.

At a Swedish mink farm, the sign above a cramped, inhospitable cage indicates two kits have died.

Due to legislation changes since this photo was taken, farms now have slightly larger cages, but the standard of life remains poor. In 2020, scientists discovered that mink could catch the Covid-19 virus and that it could mutate and be transmitted to humans.

In response, Denmark shut down the industry. In 2022, in Sweden, after a temporary ban on breeding, the government allowed some mink farms to reopen.

Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year

A red deer stag stands majestically as the snow falls: It had just started to snow when Cox and his father arrived at London’s Richmond Park. They followed the deer at a safe distance when suddenly the snow intensified and one of the stags stopped. “He almost looked as if he was having a snow shower,” said Cox.

Richmond Park is home to herds of red and fallow deer, which have been roaming freely since 1637. The grazing deer help to manage the landscape of the park.

During one of his muck dives, the young photographer was spotted by a coconut octopus, which peeked out from its clamshell shelter.

For the shot, Sloss lowered the power of his strobe lamp so as not to distress it. The octopus shut the lid of the shell when he approached, but then slowly opened it, revealing colours and coils.

The coconut octopus is one of the world’s most intelligent invertebrates and one of the few sea creatures to have been seen using tools. Especially in the sandy slopes of the Lembeh Strait in Sulawes, Indonesia, with few places to hide, it has developed unique survival strategies that gave it standing as of one of the ocean’s most resourceful animals.

This small octopus hunts mainly shrimp, crabs, clams and small fishes. To protect its soft body when foraging on sand or mud, it hides in various objects – sometimes even coconut shells, creating mobile homes that it carries around while “walking” on two of its arms.

It can close the shells in a heartbeat, making its den a very secure fortress.

With the whale investigating him, the photographer’s main challenge was to swim far enough from the curious calf to photograph it. The encounter lasted 30 minutes, with the whale circling him, swimming off, then returning for another look.

New Zealand’s population of southern right whales, known as ‘tohorā’ in Māori, were hunted to near-extinction in the 1800s by European whalers, then by Soviet whalers in the 1900s.

Now protected, the population has revived from a small group with just 13 breeding females to more than 2,000 individuals.

New Zealand’s whales are among the fattest and healthiest on the planet. Key to their success may be the apparent adaptability of their foraging strategies.

Elsewhere in the southern hemisphere, the recovery of southern right populations appears to have taken a hit from warming oceans. Whales in South Africa have been forced to shift their feeding grounds and their breeding success has declined as a result.

An intimate encounter between a beetle and a rabbit is captured. Heim set up camera traps by the active burrows of pygmy rabbits in the Columbia Basin to observe their movements and caught this moment of interaction as one of the rabbits sniffed at a stink beetle that had been sheltering in its burrow.

These rabbits live in Washington state’s Columbia Basin which has become increasingly overgrazed, with extensive sections cleared for crop growing. With this small, isolated population facing extinction, conservationists have intervened, boosting numbers to 150 and rising.

Peaceful encounters between sloths and dogs aren’t necessarily common. The Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica, had already made it across a road and climbed down a palm tree but to reach the next clump of trees it needed to return to the ground and crawl.

Meeting a big dog, it froze. The canine, having taken part in a sloth-safety training program with Sloth Conservation Foundation, simply sniffed it. Sloths live in trees and rarely descend to the forest floor. With increasing habitat loss and the fragmentation of the forest, they are forced into vulnerable journeys across urbanized areas to find food, suitable habitats and mates.

The impact of drought on the Zambezi flood plain is severe. While experiencing the worst drought in 30 years, Zambezi River Authority station manager Lubinda Lubinda stands between his old and new houses on the Barotse floodplain, one of Africa’s great floodplains.

The water that would normally reach the bottom of his old house on the left, remained several meters lower than in previous years. Climate change and deforestation mean the Barotse people of the floodplain are subject to more frequent droughts.

A diversity of wildlife is dependent on regular floods as is the Barotse people’s way of life. The wetland provides people with fish, pasture for livestock, fertile soil and vegetation for thatching and making household items

The Barotse floodplain acts as a sponge, structuring much of the Zambezi catchment and providing a much-needed ‘safety-valve’ against climate effects such as droughts and floods for local communities but also for countries downstream.

With droughts increasing due to changes in the global climate, the longterm ecological function of the Barotse floodplain is slowly disappearing, threatening not only the livelihoods of approximately 250,000 people and the economic stability of this part of the world, but also the area’s biodiversity.

A ‘Crime Scene” around coltan mining

A ‘crime scene’ of mining encroachment into nature is illustrated via the photographer’s flashlight to highlight the impact of coltan mining.

Glowing blue, coltan is a component of phone and laptop batteries. Here, the photographer surrounds it with mining tools and the remains of animals impacted by the industry, all seized by customs authorities: a gorilla skull, vertebrae and leg bone and porcupine quills.

Coltan is extracted from the riverbeds of the Democratic Republic of the Congo by poorly-paid miners who hunt wild animals for food and damage or even destroy forested areas in search of Coltan.

The area of coltan mining includes national parks such as the Kahuzi Biega National Park, home of the mountain gorilla. In this park alone, the gorilla population has been cut nearly in half. Also, poverty caused by the displacement of local human populations by the miners has led to the gorillas being killed for their meat.

Hunting and trading wildlife threatens the future of the country’s gorillas and increases the risk of viruses jumping to humans. When humans cut their way through forests to dig up minerals that go into phones, computers and other devices, they can become catalysts for a phenomenon called “spillover” — when a virus makes the leap from one species to another. In fact, that spillover is the source of two-thirds of new infectious diseases including Covid-19.

Coltan is short for columbite-tantalite, a dull metallic ore. When refined, coltan becomes a heat-resistant powder, metallic tantalum, which has unique properties for storing electrical charge.

Coltan occurs in granitic pegmatites, pockets where the deep-seated, crystallized molten rock is found. Pegmatites contain many rare metals, as well as enormous crystals of some common minerals.

Coltan is used in many electronic devices around the world due to its unique electrical properties. The two main products are cellphones and laptops, though it’s used in other electronics as well.

Coltan is mined by hand with methods similar to gold mining in California during the 1800s. Groups of men dig basins in streams by scraping off the surface mud to get the Coltan below. Then they “slosh” the water around in large tubs, allowing the Coltan ore to settle to the bottom due to its heavy weight.

As part of an interdisciplinary project by the Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change, measures are being developed to identify and deal with species-protection crime.

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