Tim Laman’s snap of an orangutan scaling its way up towards a haul of figs won the 2016 Wildlife Photographer of the Year award, a project run by the UK’s Natural History Museum.
With around 50,000 entries into this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, Tim Laman saw off some stiff competition from almost 100 countries to bag the top prize.
The top 100 images chosen in the 52nd running of the event will be shown at the Natural History Museum this month before going on a world tour.
Laman’s winning shot came after three days of climbing, manoeuvring and positioning his equipment to be used from the ground below. This captured an orangutan’s face from above within a wide-angle perspective of the forest below.
Wild orangutans face a crisis of habitat loss due to agriculture and logging. Combined with increased poaching for the illegal pet trade, the future of the species seems bleak.
“Protecting their remaining habitat is critical for orangutans to survive,” said Laman.
“If we want to preserve a great ape that retains its vast culturally transmitted knowledge of how to survive in the rainforest and the full richness of wild orangutan behaviour, then we need to protect orangutans in the wild, now.”
Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London, with the 10 winning shots for this year listed below (click to view each in a larger format).
Descriptions are provided by the organisers:
A young male orangutan makes the 30-metre climb up the thickest root of the strangler fig that has entwined itself around a tree emerging high above the canopy. The backdrop is the rich rainforest of the Gunung Palung National Park in West Kalimantan, one of the few protected orangutan strongholds in Indonesian Borneo.
Laman had to do three days of climbing up and down himself, by rope, to place in position several GoPro cameras that he could trigger remotely, to give him a chance of not only a wide‑angle view of the forest below but also a view of the orangutan’s face from above. This shot was the one he had long visualised, looking down on the orangutan within its forest home.
A crow in a tree in a park: a common enough scene. It was one that 16-year-old Knight had seen many times near his home in London’s Valentines Park, which he visits regularly to take photographs.
But as the blue light of dusk crept in and the full moon rose, the scene transformed. The spindly twigs of the sycamore tree silhouetted against the sky “made it feel almost supernatural, like something out of a fairy tale”, said Knight. Positioning himself on a slope opposite, he tried to capture the perfect composition.
These Indian rose-ringed parakeets were not happy. They had returned to their roosting and nesting hole high up in a tree in India’s Keoladeo National Park (also known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary) to find that a Bengal monitor lizard had taken up residence. The birds immediately set about trying to evict the squatter.
They bit the monitor lizard’s tail, hanging on for a couple of seconds at a time, until it retreated into the hole. They would then harass it when it tried to come out to bask. This went on for two days, but the action only lasted a couple of seconds at a time and was fast-moving.
With every gust of wind, showers of pollen were released, lit up by the winter sunshine. The hazel tree was near Binotto’s home in northern Italy. To create the dark background, he positioned himself to backlight the flowers.
“The hardest part was capturing the female flowers motionless while the catkins were moving,” said Binotto. “I searched for flowers on a short branch that was more stable.”
Using a long exposure to capture the pollen’s flight and a reflector to highlight the catkins, he took many pictures before the wind finally delivered the composition he had in mind.
At night, in the Aarey Milk Colony in a suburb of Mumbai bordering Sanjay Gandhi National Park, leopards slip ghost-like through the maze of alleys, looking for food (especially stray dogs).
The Warli people living in the area respect the big cats. Despite close encounters and occasional attacks (a particular spate coinciding with the relocation of leopards from other areas into the park), the cats are an accepted part of their lives and their culture, seen in the traditional paintings that decorate the walls of their homes.
Every day in early spring, Andersson walked in the forest near his home in Bashult, southern Sweden. He enjoyed the company of a pair of Eurasian pygmy owls – until the night he found one of them lying dead on the forest floor.
“The owl’s resting posture reflected my sadness for its lost companion,” said Andersson. Preferring to work in black and white – “it conveys the feeling better” – he captured the melancholy of the moment, framing the solitary owl within the bare branches, lit by the first light of dawn.
Not long after, he found this owl dead too.
For several days each month (in tandem with the full moon), thousands of two‑spot red snappers gather to spawn around Palau in the western Pacific Ocean. The action is intense as the fish fill the water with sperm and eggs, and predators arrive to take advantage of the bounty.
Having read about the drama, Wu couldn’t understand why there were so few photos of it – until he hit the water there for the first time, in 2012. The currents were unrelenting – ideal for eggs to be swept swiftly away but a struggle for him to keep up with the fast‑moving fish.
On this occasion, with perfect anticipation, he managed to capture a dynamic arc of spawning fish amid clouds of eggs in the oblique morning light.
The pristine white sand of Brazil’s Lençóis Maranhenses National Park offers a blank canvas to the rain. In the dry season, sand from the coast is blown by powerful Atlantic winds as far as 50km inland, sculpting a vast expanse of crescent-shaped dunes up to 40 metres high.
With the onset of the rains, the magic begins. An impermeable layer beneath the sand allows water to collect in the dune valleys, forming thousands of transient lagoons – some more than 90 metres long.
Sebastian waited several days for the perfect light overhead to bring out the colours, but with clouds obscuring any direct sun “to get a shadowless purity”. Shooting almost vertically down from a small aircraft with the door removed, avoiding perspective or scale, he created his striking image. A few weeks later, the scene had evaporated.
As soon as Sandoval slipped into the water, the curious young Californian sea lions came over for a better look. He had arrived the night before at the island of Espíritu Santo in the Gulf of California, sleeping aboard his boat so that he would be ready to dive at sunrise.
One pup grabbed a starfish from the bottom and started throwing it to Sandoval. “I love the way sea lions interact with divers and how smart they are,” he said.
Angling his camera up towards the dawn light – just as the pup offered him the starfish and another youngster slipped by close to the rocks – he created his artistic impression of the sea lion’s playful nature.
Nothing prepared Hilton for what he saw: some 4,000 defrosting pangolins (five tonnes) from one of the largest seizures of the animals on record. They were destined for China and Vietnam for the exotic-meat trade or for traditional medicine.
Pangolins have become the world’s most trafficked animals, with all eight species targeted. This illegal trade, along with habitat loss and local hunting, means that the four Asian species are now endangered or critically endangered, and Africa’s four species are heading that way.
“Wildlife crime is big business,” said Hilton. “It will stop only when the demand stops.”