Winners of Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, which began in 1965, is an annual presentation of the greatest nature photography from around the world. This year’s competition drew over 50,000 entries from 95 nations. The Natural History Museum in London is responsible for the development and production of Wildlife Photographer of the Year. The owners and sponsors have graciously agreed to share the winning photographs from this year’s competition once again. Images from prior years’ contests and exhibitions can be found on the museum’s website, as well as further information about the current contest and exhibition. The photographers and WPY organizers offer captions, which are gently modified for style.

  1. Head to head: Stefano Unterthiner captures two Svalbard reindeer fighting for dominance over a harem. During the rutting season, Unterthiner followed these reindeer. He was engrossed in “the stench, the loudness, the tiredness, and the anguish” as he watched the fight. The reindeer antlers battled until the dominant male (left) chased its challenger away, securing the breeding opportunity.
Two reindeer battle head-to-head, their antlers entangled.
Stefano Unterthiner

2. Rich reflections: In the seaweed, Justin Gilligan crafts a reflection of a marine ranger. Gilligan wanted to highlight how careful human control helps sustain this flourishing seaweed jungle at the world’s southernmost tropical reef. With only a 40-minute window where the tidal conditions were ideal, Gilligan had to rely on trial and error for three days before capturing his photograph.

A person is seen underwater, with snorkeling gear, among lots of colorful seaweed.
Justin Gilligan

3. The intimate touch: Shane Kalyn stands by and observes a raven courtship display. It was the middle of winter, and the ravens’ breeding season had begun. Kalyn reclined on the frozen ground, capturing the detail of the ravens’ iridescent plumage against the contrasted snow to highlight this intimate moment when their big black bills came together with the help of the subdued light.

Two ravens interact with their beaks.
Shane Kalyn

4. Elephant in the room: Visitors to the zoo who are seeing a baby elephant perform underwater are the focus of Adam Oswell’s attention. Adam was troubled by this scene, despite the fact that it was advertised as instructive and as exercise for the elephants. Performances like these are seen as exploitative by organizations concerned with the welfare of captive elephants because they encourage unnatural behavior. Elephant tourism is on the rise in Asia. Elephants in captivity currently outnumber elephants in the wild in Thailand. The COVID-19 pandemic halted international tourism, resulting in elephant sanctuaries being overrun with elephants whose owners can no longer care for them.

A roomful of spectators looks through huge glass walls at an elephant performing underwater.
Adam Oswell

5. Sunflower songbird: Andrés Luis Dominguez Blanco takes in the beauty of the sunflowers and the song of a lovely warbler. Andrés’ attention was pulled to a warbler darting from blossom to flower as the light faded towards the conclusion of a warm May afternoon. Andrés photographed the musician, “the ruler of its domain,” from his hideout in his father’s automobile.

A small songbird rests atop a sunflower among hundreds of other sunflowers.
Andrés Luis Dominguez Blanco

6. The healing touch, from community care: Brent Stirton visits a rehabilitation camp for orphaned chimps from the bushmeat trade. The center’s director sits with a recently rescued chimp as she gradually introduces it to the other chimps. To help young chimps cope with their psychological and physical stress, they are provided one-on-one care. These chimps are extremely fortunate. After witnessing the adults in their group being butchered for meat, less than one in ten are rescued. The majority of them have gone through privation and pain.

A person sits on the floor of a room, tenderly holding two young chimpanzees.
Brent Stirton

7. Where the giant newts breed: In the flooded woodland, Joo Rodrigues is astonished by a pair of courting sharp-ribbed salamanders. It was Joo’s first opportunity to dive in this lake in five years, as it only appears during winters with unusually strong rainfall, when underground rivers flood. Before the newts swam away, he had a split second to adjust his camera settings.

Two large newts swim among branches, seen underwater.
João Rodrigues

8. Spinning the cradle: Gil Wizen discovers a fishing spider weaving silk into its egg sac with the help of its spinnerets. This spider was discovered by Wizen under some loose bark. He was very careful because any disturbance could force the spider to abandon its project. Wizen explained, “The action of the spinnerets reminded me of the movement of human fingers when weaving.”

Gil Wizen

9. Cool time, from land time for sea bears: When polar bears come ashore in the summer, Martin Gregus captures them in a different light. Two female polar bears ventured to the shallow intertidal waters to cool off and play on a hot summer day. Gregus captured this moment with the use of a drone. The heart shape, he believes, represents their apparent sibling attachment as well as “the love we as people owe to the natural world.”

Two polar bears rest against a large rock while swimming, viewed from above.
Martin Gregus

10. Road to ruin: The stark, straight line of a road slicing through the contours of a wetland scene is depicted by Javier Lafuente. Javier dealt with the issues of sunshine reflected off the lake and constantly shifting light conditions by rotating his drone and inclining the camera. The pools were caught as flat hues that varied according on the vegetation and mineral composition. This road, which divides the marsh in two, was built in the 1980s to offer access to a beach. Ospreys and bee-eaters are among the many migratory visitors to the tidal marsh, which is home to more than 100 species of birds.

An aerial view of a straight road cutting across wetlands.
Javier Lafuente

11. Creation: As a trio of camouflage groupers depart their milky cloud of eggs and sperm, Laurent Ballesta glances into the depths. Ballesta and his colleagues visited this lagoon for five years, diving day and night to see the yearly spawning of camouflage groupers. After dusk, they were joined by reef sharks chasing the fish. Around the full moon in July, up to 20,000 fish congregate in Fakarava, a short southern passage that connects the lagoon to the ocean. This species is threatened by overfishing, although it is protected within a biosphere reserve.

Large fish swim through a milky cloud of eggs and sperm in dark water.
Laurent Ballesta

12. High-flying jay: Lasse Kurkela observes a Siberian jay as it flies to the top of a spruce tree to store its food. In his shot of the Siberian jay, Lasse aimed to convey a sense of scale in the old-growth spruce-dominated woodland. He used cheese to acclimate the jays to his remote-controlled camera and to persuade them to follow a specific flight path.

A small bird flies above the photographer, among snow-covered pine trees.
Lasse Kurkela
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