The funny, dramatic and heart-rending stories behind the public’s favourite pictures in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition

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A pair of mice brawling like drunks outside a pub won the people’s choice at the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year award.

Something happens inside us when we see pictures of animals acting in a way which we recognise as human. Is it that we imagine the creatures’ personalities, as we do with pets? Or is it that seeing wildlife in a human context remind us that we are just the same as them, animals making our way in an often confusing world?

These are questions that photographer Sam Rowley has grappled with in his career as a wildlife photographer and film-maker, and his efforts have paid off as the picture at the top of this page, ‘Station squabble’, was named the winner of the 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year’s LUMIX People’s Choice Award.

‘This image reminds us that while we may wander past it everyday, humans are inherently intertwined with the nature that is on our doorstep,’ said Sir Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum. ‘I hope it inspires people to think about and value this relationship more.’

Watching the mice behaving like this — almost as if they’re squabbling drunks outside the pub on a Friday night — really does make us feel more for them, and the other pictures in the top four also speak of the link between people and animals. There is an exploited orangutan wearing boxing gloves; a jaguar and her cub working together to make dinner as if they were mother and child doing housework; an orphaned rhino bonding with a keeper that’s a surrogate mother; and a the family of reindeer in the snow, curiously observing the photographer as if inviting him to join them.

The pictures — and the stories behind them — are below, and if you’d like to see the images full size the WPOTY exhibition at London’s Natural History Museum (who organise and run the competition) is on until May 31. You can find out more — and look into entering the 2020 competition — at www.wildlifephotographeroftheyear.com.


‘Station squabble’ by Sam Rowley

The mice fighting on the tube have enchanted people from around the world. ©Sam Rowley / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Sam became fascinated by watching mice play on quiet platforms late at night on the London Underground, and eventually spent a week lying on platforms with camera at the ready, trying to photograph them. He only saw a handful of fights — so many scraps of food are dropped by passengers that competition over them was rare — and the fight lasted only a split second.

‘It’s been a lifetime dream to succeed in this competition in this way, with such a relatable photo taken in such an everyday environment,’ said Sam. ‘I hope it shows people the unexpected drama found in the most familiar of urban environments.’


‘Losing the fight’ by Aaron Gekoski

© Aaron Gekoski / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Orangutans have been put on display — dancing, playing music and even boxing — at places such as Safari World in Bangkok for decades. International pressure led to these shows being halted for a while in 2004, but they’re back on again, twice a day, every day.


‘Matching outfits’ by Michel Zoghzoghi

©Michel Zoghzoghi / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

‘It was in the middle of the afternoon and we were on the Cuiaba river when Regina, our guide, told us that she had just been informed that there was a female Jaguar with her cub on a nicely open sand beach on the Tres Irmaos River,’ explains Lebanese photographer Michael Zoghzoghi. His group made their way their, but were initially disappointed. That feeling didn’t last long.

‘As we got close, we saw over 10 boats leaving as the pair had left the open and went into the dense vegetation. We decided to stay, hoping that they would appear again now that it was much quieter with only two boats left.

‘We suddenly heard a splash in the water and saw the mother and the cub crossing the river right in front of us. The cub was holding onto something that looked like her tail. As they started to come out of the water we realised that they were both holding onto an anaconda. There were muffled screams on the boat as nothing had prepared us for this. They got out of the water and posed for a bit. The mother was looking ahead, probably checking her surroundings. The cub was looking at his mother while holding the snake. The shape of the anaconda, its colour pattern matching that of the jaguars and his mouth wide opened making an already amazing scene almost surreal.’


‘Surrogate mother’ by Martin Buzora

©Martin Buzora / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Martin Buzora’s picture of ranger Elias Mugambi was taken at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya, where much of his time is taken up caring for orphaned black rhinos such as this one, called Kitui. The young rhinos are in the sanctuary as a result of poaching or because their mothers are blind and cannot care for them safely in the wild.


‘Spot the reindeer’ by Francis De Andres

©Francis De Andres / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Spanish photographer Francis De Andres was far from his native land as he trekked through the Arctic Circle in Norway to capture this image. Wildlife has adapted to the environment and its freezing temperatures; Francis found this composition of white arctic reindeer, which were observing him, both curious and charming.


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