If you want to get closer to nature’s most exotic species without losing any sweat, then step inside the Natural History Museum for this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. See the stand-off at the watering hole between a squirrel and a seagull. The bloodlust cannibalism of one fox who fed on another fox. Witness feathers fly as ruffs do battle over territory. There are gripping stories and spectacles everywhere you look.
A man who knows a lot about life and death struggles shot the winning entry. Canadian physician and amateur photographer Don Gutoski beat more than 42,000 entries from 96 countries with his image, Tale of two foxes, a beautiful but haunting portrait of the struggle for life in the subarctic climes of Cape Churchill, Canada.
“Cape Churchill is where the range of the red fox and the more northern Arctic fox overlap. ‘The Churchill guides had heard that the two species will occasionally fight, but no one we talked to had ever seen this behaviour,” says Gutoski.
“I first noticed the red fox hunting and interacting with some prey and on closer approach realised that prey was a white Arctic fox. By the time I got close enough to capture the event, the fight was over and the victor was feeding. I took a number of pictures of the event, until the red fox had eaten its fill, and picked up the remains to find a hiding spot for a later meal.’”
Jury member and National Geographic magazine’s senior editor for natural history projects, Kathy Moran observes, “The immediate impact of this photograph is that it appears as if the red fox is slipping out of its winter coat. What might simply be a straightforward interaction between predator and prey struck the jury as a stark example of climate change, with red foxes encroaching on Arctic fox territory. The bottom-line is, this image works on multiple levels. It is graphic, it captures behaviour and it is one of the strongest single storytelling photographs I have seen.”
Fourteen-year-old Ondrej Pelánek from the Czech Republic won the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 title for his image Fighting ruffs. Ruffs are waders and are known for their warlike behaviour during courting. The image was taken in Norway, on Varanger’s tundra, around 15 kilometres inland. “Far away behind the polar circle we observed fighting ruffs,” says Pelanek. “I took this photograph at midnight when my father was sleeping. I was too excited, so stayed awake.”
“This is a complex, beautifully layered photograph, a surprisingly sophisticated way of seeing that immediately generated buzz within the jury,” says Moran. “There are lots of good photographs of ruffs on the lek, getting ready to display, but very few images that capture the behaviour with such intensity and grace. The photographer has captured a moment that speaks to powerful behaviour, yet renders it as a delicate dance. You could spend a career trying to make this photograph. That it came from one of the younger entrants was just a thrill.”
Think you can make a better judge? Choose your best wildlife photograph in the People’s Choice Award until 5 January 2016
The 2015 Wildlife Photographer of the Year, 16 October 2015 until 10 April 2016, 10.00–17.50 (last admission 17.15). Adult £15*, child and concession £TBC*, family (up to two adults and three children) £TBC*. Visit www.nhm.ac.uk for further information. Nearest tube: South Kensington
Free for Members, Patrons and children under four
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