Rare glimpse of Siberian tigress wins Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020
Selected from over 49,000 entries from around the world, the winners of the 2020
Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition have been announced.
The embrace by Sergey Gorshkov, Russia. With an expression of sheer ecstasy, a tigress hugs an ancient Manchurian fir, rubbing her cheek against bark to leave secretions from her scent glands. She is an Amur, or Siberian, tiger, here in the Land of the Leopard National Park, in the Russian Far East. The race – now regarded as the same subspecies as the Bengal tiger – is found only in this region, with a small number surviving over the border in China and possibly a few in North Korea. Hunted almost to extinction in the past century, the population is still threatened by poaching and logging, which also impacts their prey – mostly deer and wild boar, which are also hunted. But recent (unpublished) camera‑trap surveys indicate that greater protection may have resulted in a population of possibly 500–600 – an increase that it is hoped a future formal census may confirm. Nikon Z-7 + 50mm f1.8 lens; 1/200 sec at f6.3; ISO 250; Cognisys camera-trap system.
Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cambridge, announced Sergey Gorshkov as this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year for his image,
The Embrace, featuring an Amur tigress hugging an ancient Manchurian fir in the Russian Far East. Amur, or Siberian, tigers are only found in this region and it took more than 11 months for the Russian photographer to capture this moment with hidden cameras.
Chair of the judging panel, renowned writer and editor, Rosamund ‘Roz’ Kidman Cox says, ‘It’s a scene like no other. A unique glimpse of an intimate moment deep in a magical forest.
Shafts of low winter sun highlight the ancient fir tree and the coat of the huge tigress as she grips the trunk in obvious ecstasy and inhales the scent of tiger on resin, leaving her own mark as her message. It’s also a story told in glorious colour and texture of the comeback of the Amur tiger, a symbol of the Russian wilderness.’
Dr Tim Littlewood, Natural History Museum’s Executive Director of Science and jury member, says ‘Hunted to the verge of extinction in the past century, the Amur population is still threatened by poaching and logging today.
The remarkable sight of the tigress immersed in her natural environment offers us hope, as recent reports suggest numbers are growing from dedicated conservation efforts. Through the unique emotive power of photography, we are reminded of the beauty of the natural world and our shared responsibility to protect it.'
The fox that got the goose by Liina Heikkinen, Finland. It was on a summer holiday in Helsinki that Liina, then aged 13, heard about a large fox family living in the city suburbs on the island of Lehtisaari. The island has both wooded areas and fox-friendly citizens, and the foxes are relatively unafraid of humans. So Liina and her father spent one long July day, without a hide, watching the two adults and their six large cubs, which were almost the size of their parents, though slimmer and lankier. In another month, the cubs would be able to fend for themselves, but in July they were only catching insects and earthworms and a few rodents, and the parents were still bringing food for them – larger prey than the more normal voles and mice. It was 7pm when the excitement began, with the vixen’s arrival with a barnacle goose. Feathers flew as the cubs began fighting over it. Nikon D4 + 28–300mm f3.5–5.6 lens; 1/125 sec at f5.6 (-0.3 e/v); ISO 1600.
Liina Heikkinen was awarded the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020 for her dramatic image,
The fox that got the goose. With feathers flying, the young fox is framed as it refuses to share the barnacle goose with its five sibling rivals. Liina is the youngest of a family of wildlife photographers and has spent much of her childhood immersed in nature in her homeland of Finland.
‘A sense of furtive drama and frantic urgency enlivens this image, drawing us into the frame. The sharp focus on the fox’s face leads us straight to where the action is. A great natural history moment captured perfectly,’ says Shekar Dattatri, wildlife filmmaker and jury member.
The two Grand Title winners were selected from 100 images, with all photos from both professional and amateur photographers judged anonymously by a panel of experts for their innovation, narrative and technical ability.
The competition celebrated its fifty sixth year in 2020.
The winners and finalists will be displayed at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum, London, UK, opening on 16 October 2020, before touring internationally to venues including Australia in the new year. L
The next Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition opens for entries on Monday 19 October 2020. You can see all the other category winners below.
Eleonora's gift by Alberto Fantoni, Italy Winner 2020, Rising Star Portfolio. On the steep cliffs of a Sardinian island, a male Eleonora’s falcon brings his mate food – a small migrant, probably a lark, snatched from the sky as it flew over the Mediterranean. These falcons – medium-sized hawks – choose to breed on cliffs and small islands along the Mediterranean coast in late summer, specifically to coincide with the mass autumn migration of small birds as they cross the sea on their way to Africa. Canon EOS 7D Mark II + 500mm f4.5 lens; 1/2000 sec at f7.1 (+1 e/v); ISO 800; hide.
Watching you watching them by Alex Badyaev, Russia/USA Winner 2020, Urban Wildlife What a treat for a biologist: the species you want to study chooses to nest right outside your window. The Cordilleran flycatcher is declining across western North America as the changing climate causes shrinkage of the riparian habitats (river and other freshwater corridors) along its migratory routes and on its wintering grounds in Mexico. It also happens to be very specific in its choice of nest site. In Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, it typically nests in crevices and on canyon shelves. But one pair picked this remote research cabin instead, perhaps to avoid predation. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV + 17mm f4 lens; 1/40 sec at f22; ISO 1600; Canon 430EX flash; remote release.
Perfect balance by Andrés Luis Dominguez Blanco, Spain Winner 2020, 10 years and under. In spring, the meadows near Andrés’ home in Ubrique, in Andalucia, Spain, are bright with flowers, Andrés had walked there a few days earlier and seen European stonechats hunting for insects, but they were on the far side of the meadow. He regularly sees and hears stonechats, their calls like two stones tapping together. They are widespread throughout central and southern Europe, some – such as those around Andrés’ home – resident year round, others overwintering in northern Africa. Andrés asked his dad to drive to the meadow and park so he could use the car as a hide, kneel on the back seat and, with his lens on the window sill, shoot through the open windows. Fujifilm X-H1 + XF 100–400mm f4.5–5.6 lens; 1/50 sec at f5.6; ISO 800.
A tale of two wasps by Frank Deschandol, France Winner 2020, Behaviour: Invertebrates This remarkable simultaneous framing of a red-banded sand wasp (left) and a cuckoo wasp, about to enter next-door nest holes, is the result of painstaking preparation. The female Hedychrum cuckoo wasp – just 6 millimetres long (less than 1/4 inch) – parasitizes the nests of certain solitary digger wasps, laying her eggs in her hosts’ burrows so that her larvae can feast on their eggs or larvae and then the food stores. The much larger red-banded sand wasp lays her eggs in her own burrow, which she provisions with caterpillars, one for each of her young to eat when they emerge. Canon EOS 5D Mark II + 100mm f2.8 lens + close-up 250D lens + reverse-mounted lens; 5 sec at f13; ISO 160; customized high-speed shutter system; six wireless flashes + Fresnel lenses; Yongnuo wireless flash trigger; Keyence infrared sensor + Meder Reed relay + amplifier; Novoflex MagicBalance + home-made tripod.
Out of the blue by Gabriel Eisenband, Colombia Winner 2020, Plants and Fungi It was Ritak’Uwa Blanco, the highest peak in the Eastern Cordillera of the Colombian Andes, that Gabriel had set out to photograph. Pitching his tent in the valley, he climbed up to photograph the snow-capped peak against the sunset. But it was the foreground of flowers that captured his attention. Sometimes known as white arnica, the plant is a member of the daisy family found only in Colombia. It flourishes in the high-altitude, herb-rich páramo habitat of the Andes, adapted to the extreme cold with a dense covering of woolly white ‘hair’ and ‘antifreeze’ proteins in its leaves. Nikon D300s + Nikon 10–24mm f3.5 lens at 11mm; 30 sec at f22; ISO 200; Gitzo tripod.
Life in the balance by Jaime Culebras, Spain Winner 2020, Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles A Manduriacu glass frog snacks on a spider in the foothills of the Andes, northwestern Ecuador. As big consumers of invertebrates, glass frogs play a key part in maintaining balanced ecosystems. That night, Jaime’s determination to share his passion for them had driven him to walk for four hours, in heavy rain, through the forest to reach the frogs’ streams in Manduriacu Reserve. Sony ILCE-7M3 + 90mm f2.8 lens; 1/100 sec at f16; ISO 320; Yongnuo flash + trigger; softbox.
Show Business by Kirsten Luce, USA Winner 2020, Wildlife Photojournalism: Single Image. One hand raised signalling the bear to stand, the other holding a rod, the trainer directs the ice-rink show. A wire muzzle stops the polar bear biting back, and blue safety netting surrounds the circus ring. It’s a shocking sight – not because of the massive predator towering over the petite woman in her ice-skating outfit but because of the uneven power dynamic expressed by the posture of the bear and the knowledge that it is not performing by choice. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV + 70–200mm f2.8 lens; 1/500 sec at f4; ISO 2000.
Etna's river of fire by Luciano Gaudenzio, Italy Winner 2020, Earth's Environments. From a great gash on the southern flank of Mount Etna, lava flows within a huge lava tunnel, re-emerging further down the slope as an incandescent red river, veiled in volcanic gases. To witness the scene, Luciano and his colleagues had trekked for several hours up the north side of the volcano, through stinking steam and over ash-covered chaotic rocky masses – the residues of past eruptions. A wall of heat marked the limit of their approach. Luciano describes the show that lay before him as hypnotic, the vent resembling ‘an open wound on the rough and wrinkled skin of a huge dinosaur’. Canon EOS 5D Mark III + 24mm f3.5 lens; 1 sec at f16; ISO 320; Leofoto tripod + ball head.
The pose by Mogens Trolle, Denmark Winner 2020, Animal Portraits. A young male proboscis monkey cocks his head slightly and closes his eyes. Unexpected pale blue eyelids now complement his immaculately groomed auburn hair. He poses for a few seconds as if in meditation. He is a wild visitor to the feeding station at Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary in Sabah, Borneo – ‘the most laid-back character,’ says Mogens, who has been photographing primates worldwide for the past five years. Canon EOS-1D X + 500mm f4 lens; 1/1000 sec at f7.1; ISO 1250; Manfrotto tripod + Benro gimbal head.
Backroom business by Paul Hilton, UK/Australia Winner 2020, Wildlife Photojournalist Story Award. A young pig-tailed macaque is put on show chained to a wooden cage in Bali’s bird market, Indonesia. Its mother and the mothers of the other youngsters on show, would have been killed. Pig‑tailed macaques are energetic, social primates living in large troops in forests throughout Southeast Asia. As the forests are destroyed, they increasingly raid agricultural crops and are shot as pests. The babies are then sold into a life of solitary confinement as a pet, to a zoo or for biomedical research. Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II + 16–35mm lens at 16mm; 1/10 sec at f3.2; ISO 1600.
The last bite by Ripan Biswas, India Winner 2020, Wildlife Photographer of the Year Portfolio Award. These two ferocious predators don’t often meet. The giant riverine tiger beetle pursues prey on the ground, while weaver ants stay mostly in the trees – but if they do meet, both need to be wary. When an ant colony went hunting small insects on a dry river bed in Buxa Tiger Reserve, West Bengal, India, a tiger beetle began to pick off some of the ants. Nikon D5200 + Tamron 90mm f2.8 lens; 1/160 sec at f8; ISO 160; Viltrox ring flash.
A mean mouthful by Sam Sloss, Italy/USA Winner 2020, 11-14 years old. On a diving holiday in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, Sam stopped to watch the behaviour of a group of clownfishes as they swam with hectic and repeated patterns in and out and around their home, a magnificent anemone. Clownfish are highly territorial, living in small groups within an anemone. The anemone’s stinging tentacles protect the clownfish and their eggs from predators – a clownfish itself develops a special layer of mucus to avoid being stung. In return, the tenants feed on debris and parasites within the tentacles and aerate the water around them and may also deter anemone‑eating fish. Nikon D300 + 105mm f2.8 lens; 1/250 sec at f18; ISO 200; Nauticam Housing + two INON Z-240 strobes.
When mother says run by Shanyuan Li, China Winner 2020, Behaviour: Mammals This rare picture of a family of Pallas’s cats, or manuls, on the remote steppes of the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau in northwest China is the result of six years’ work at high altitude. These small cats are normally solitary, hard to find and mostly active at dawn and dusk. Through long-term observation, Shanyuan knew his best chance to photograph them in daylight would be in August and September, when the kittens were a few months old and the mothers bolder and intent on caring for them. He tracked the family as they descended to about 3,800 metres (12,500 feet) in search of their favourite food – pikas (small, rabbit‑like mammals) – and set up his hide on the hill opposite their lair, an old marmot hole. Canon EOS-1D X Mark II + 800mm f5.6 lens; 1/1250 sec at f11; ISO 640; Sirui tripod.
The golden moment by Songda Cai, China Winner 2020, Under Water A tiny diamondback squid paralarva flits below in the blackness, stops hunting for an instant when caught in the light beam, gilds itself in shimmering gold and then moves gracefully out of the light. The beam was Songda’s, on a night‑dive over deep water, far off the coast of Anilao, in the Philippines. He never knows what he might encounter in this dark, silent world. All sorts of larvae and other tiny animals – zooplankton – migrate up from the depths under cover of night to feed on surface-dwelling phytoplankton, and after them come other predators. Nikon D850 + 60mm f2.8 lens; 1/200 sec at f20; ISO 500; Seacam housing; Seaflash 150D strobes; Scubalamp lights.