Photo: Snow-plateau nomads by Shangzhen Fan, China: Winner 2019, Animals in Their Environment

Snow-plateau nomads by Shangzhen Fan, ChinaWinner 2019, Animals in Their Environment

Snow-plateau nomads by Shangzhen Fan, ChinaWinner 2019, Animals in Their Environment

Image by Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Natural History Museum, London


Daniel Nelson

The moment a Himalayan marmot is cornered by a Tibetan fox, “the power of the predator baring its teeth, the terror of her prey, the intensity of life and death written on their faces”.

Yongqing Bao’s image is a worthy winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, but the “highly recommended” pictures are stunning, too: the quality of this always attention-grabbing show has ratcheted up again this year.

Nature red in tooth and claw is ever-present in the top-100 images, whether it’s an adult male hippo with close-to-death snatched baby hippo in its mouth or a saw-toothed leopard seal bursting out of the water in pursuit of a fleeing penguin.

To get these memorable pictures the photographers go underwater, stake out for weeks, adapt their cameras, shoot from above, and get a lucky breaks. They also use tried and tested approaches:

·      contrasts in scale – like the pic of tiny tarsiers dwarfed by a tree trunks in Indonesia, a polar bear reduced to miniature by the scree across which he is padding, and the matchsticks which turn out to be logs shot from above

·      humour, such as the raccoon poking through a smashed car windscreen 

·      weirdness, like the jackfish travelling within a jellyfish’s soft body, a spider mimicking an ant or the eerie shot of rooted, swaying eels feeding on plankton 

·      numbers and patterns – as shown in a crammed huddle of penguins

·      shock,: a bloody death pool of frogs whose hind legs have been cut off, sometimes causing their lungs to spill out

·      the double-take that makes you look again – a giant green mouth framed by thick lips? No, flamingos over a lake

·      shapes, like the circle formed by a school of fish to protect their young

·      and of course

·      cuteness in the shape of young puma

It’s hard to summon up a gee whiz image when we are saturated with extraordinary wildlife documentaries on television, each one offering previously unseen views of animals and plants, but this exhibition produces some memorable shots.

I’d like to have a little more information about the wildlife in the viewfinder. There’s a little to chew on: sloths descend from their trees once every eight days to defecate, and why they don’t simply shower the canopy below is a mystery;  Weddell seals can stay underwater for nearly one-and-a-half hours. But not enough.

Otherwise, glimpses of wonder.

* Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, £13.95, seniors and students £10.95, children £8.25, is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, SW7, until 31 May.  Info: 7942 5000

+ Exhibition photos


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