Stunning pictures nominated for Wildlife Photographer of the Year

From an adorable lion cub being given a wash by two lionesses to a fox finding a home in a London bin, the stunning pictures nominated for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year people’s choice award are revealed

Two lionesses grooming a cub, a fox finding a home in a London bin, moon jellyfish glowing under the northern lights and dragonfly landing on a turtle’s nose are among the 25 shortlisted entries for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award.

The Natural History Museum London is inviting people to vote for their favourite image highlighting important nature stories from around the world to win this year’s People’s Choice Award. 

A mudskipper fish defending its territory from a crab, a fox taking advantage of a full London bin, courting mountain hares touching noses in Scotland’s Monadhliath Mountains and a polar bear asleep on an iceberg are among the incredible photographs that were selected from nearly 50,000 entries from 95 countries.

The public can vote for their favourite image online or at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum until voting closes on January 31, 2024, with the winning picture as well as the top four images being announced in February. 

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London.

Here are this year’s shortlisted photographs: 

Mark Boyd’s (Kenya) ‘Shared Parenting’ was shortlisted for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award. It shows a pair of lionesses devotedly grooming one of the pride’s five cubs in Kenya’s Maasai Mara. Early in the morning, Mr Boyd watched as these lionesses groomed the cub. The evening before they’d set off to hunt, leaving the cubs hidden overnight in dense bushes. Returning from their unsuccessful mission, they’d called the cubs out onto the open grassland. Females raise each other’s cubs as their own, sharing parenting duties. Here the youngster was clearly enjoying the moment of affection and attention

For ‘Aurora Jellies’, Audun Rikardsen (Norway) photographed moon jellyfish swarming in the cool autumnal waters of a fjord outside Tromsø in northern Norway illuminated by the aurora borealis. It’s common for this species to gather in their hundreds under the northern lights. Sheltering his equipment in a self-made waterproof housing, Mr Rikardsen used a single exposure as well as his own system for adjusting the focus and aperture during the exposure. This enabled him to capture the reflection of the sky’s colours on the surface of the water and at the same time light up the jellyfish with flashes. Moon jellyfish are common in all oceans and are easily recognised by their four rings, which are in fact their genital

‘The Happy Turtle’ by Tzahi Finkelstein (Israel) shows a Balkan pond turtle sharing a moment of peaceful coexistence with a northern banded groundling dragonfly in Israel’s Jezreel Valley. Mr Finkelstein was positioned in his hide photographing shore birds when he spotted a Balkan pond turtle walking in the shallow water. At first, he wasn’t interested in it and carried on watching the birds. It wasn’t until a northern banded groundling dragonfly flew past his lens in the direction of the turtle that his focus changed. The dragonfly unexpectedly landed on the turtle’s nose, but instead of snapping up the insect, the turtle appeared to be experiencing pleasure from the interaction as they shared a moment of peaceful coexistence in the midst of the swamp’s murky waters

‘Opportunity Fox’ by Matt Maran (UK) shows a young red fox taking advantage of a bin stacked high with rubbish before collection day on a street in London. Over a two-month period, Mr Maran watched a young male red fox learn the best time to climb into this street bin in London. It figured out it was Monday evenings, shortly before the weekly collection, when the rubbish was piled high and any discarded food that rested on top was easy to get at. Contrary to what most people think, an urban fox’s diet is made up of more than 50 per cent natural food, such as earthworms, wild birds, seeds and fruits. As a result, these animals play an important role in the urban ecosystem

‘The Grassland Geladas’ by Marco Gaiotti (Italy) shows a gelada mother suckling its baby alongside a companion at the edge of a plateau in the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia during the August rainy season, with looming clouds threatening a downpour. The gelada family unit, known as a harem, usually consists of one male and a small number of related females and their young. Gelada monkeys live only in the high mountain meadows of Ethiopia, where they spend most of their time on the ground grazing. However, with numbers of domestic livestock increasing, their grazing grasslands are now diminishing, pushing them into restricted areas

Nima Sarikhani’s (UK) ‘Ice Bed’ shows a polar bear carving out a bed from a small iceberg before drifting off to sleep in the far north, off Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Having spent three days desperately searching for polar bears through thick fog in the far north off Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, the expedition vessel Ms Sarikhani was on decided to change course. It turned and headed to the southeast, where there was still some sea ice. Here they encountered a younger and an older male and watched the pair over the following eight hours. Just before midnight, the young male clambered onto a small iceberg and, using his strong paws, clawed away at it to carve out a bed for himself before drifting off to sleep

‘Starling Murmuration’ (Germany/Romania) by Daniel Dencescu shows a mesmerising mass of starlings swirling into the shape of a giant bird on their way to communal roosts above the city of Rome, Italy. Mr Dencescu was mesmerised by the movements of the starlings as they formed colossal organic shapes in the sky. Each day, as they returned from foraging, they would gather in large numbers and perform spellbinding aerial shows, known as murmurations, on their flight home to their communal roosts

Ayala Fishaimer’s (Israel) ‘Tough Negotiation’ shows a red fox club locking eyes with the shrew it had thrown up in the air moments earlier while standing on a rock in the Judean Foothills of Israel. After the first Covid-19 lockdown, Ms Fishaimer was in need of nature and so headed out early one spring morning to the Judean Foothills in Israel. After an hour driving, she arrived at the red fox den and, parking a safe distance away, waited. It wasn’t long before four cubs appeared and started to play. This cub lost interest in its siblings and started sniffing around. Moments later, it pulled a shrew out of the sand and started knocking it around like a ball. Then, standing on a rock, the cub threw the shrew in the air. As it landed, Ms Fishaimer caught the moment the hapless shrew and the fox locked eyes

‘Tender Touch’ by Andy Parkinson (UK) shows two courting mountain hares coming together to touch noses in the Monadhliath Mountains in Scotland. For 15 years, Mr Parkinson has been photographing the hares of Scotland’s Monadhliath Mountains, but in all that time he’s never witnessed a moment like this. He was expecting the female to repel the male’s advances with the usual explosive boxing behaviour, so included lots of space around them. Unexpectedly, the two courting hares came together and touched noses. Acting quickly, Mr Parkinson caught their special moment on camera. For him, this was yet more evidence of the highly complex social relationships that animals have with one another

‘Looking At Me, Looking At You’ by John E. Marriott (Canada) was also shortlisted. It shows a grizzly bear who rises up on its hind legs and glances towards the photographer before returning to fish for salmon in the Chilko River in British Columbia, Canada. Mr Marriott was leading a grizzly bear photography tour on the Chilko River when the group came across this bear salmon fishing. Allowing the current to take their small boat slowly past the bear, they watched it rise up on its hind legs as if to get a better perspective on the salmon in the shallow water. As the bear was standing there, it momentarily glanced in the boat’s direction with a quizzical expression before returning to its salmon-fishing endeavours

‘A Rare Sight’ by Axel Gomille (Germany) shows the rarest species of wild dog in the world, the Ethiopian wolf, taking a rest among the highland vegetation of Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains National Park. The summer greens and blues provide the perfect backdrop for the chestnut tones of the Ethiopian wolf’s coat in this serene image. The rarest species of wild dog in the world, there are only a few hundred left, surviving in the low growing, Afro-alpine shrubland of the highlands of Ethiopia. The Bale Mountains National Park, where this image was taken, supports the largest population of Ethiopian wolves. They’re threatened by habitat loss and diseases, such as rabies and canine distemper, which they catch from domestic dogs

‘Swallow Over Meadow’ by Hermann Hirsch/Jan Lessman (Germany) shows a barn swallow flying over a meadow of cornflowers, catching insects during springtime in eastern Germany. Mr Hirsch and Mr Lessman had chosen to take photographs at an old farm, knowing barn swallows were nesting there. As their name suggests, barn swallows prefer to nest inside buildings, and usually return to the same spot each year, repairing nesting cups sculpted from mud and clay. Positioning their camera among the cornflowers, the photographers watched as the swallows continuously flew low over the meadow, catching insects on the wing. Using a remote control, they took this beautiful picture as one of the swallows flew over the camera

‘Missed Sip of Milk’ by Karim Iliya (USA/Lebanon) shows a humpback whale calf misses some of its mother’s milk, which drifts and swirls in the currents off the coast of Rurutu, French Polynesia. In the seven years and hundreds of hours Mr Iliya has been documenting humpback whales, he’s only seen whale milk floating in the water twice. Both times were on a diving trip off the coast of Rurutu, French Polynesia, with the same whale and her calf. Humpback whales don’t have lips, so the calves can be clumsy and on very rare occasions miss some of the milk. Just as Mr Iliya was preparing to go back up to the surface, he saw the calf rising in the background and captured these strands of milk drifting and swirling in the current

‘Homecoming’ by Dvir Barkay (USA/Israel) shows a pygmy round-eared bat returning to its termite-nest home as two well-camouflaged family members look out from the entrance in the lowland forests of Costa Rica. Mr Barkay spent more than two months attempting to get images of the rarely photographed pygmy round-eared bat in the lowland rainforests of Costa Rica. The bats exhibit a unique roosting behaviour, resting in hollows that they carve out with their teeth inside the nests of termite colonies. Using a nearby branch to support his camera, Mr Barkay set up an infrared trigger near the entrance of the roost, together with three diffused flashes. This image shows one of the bats returning home as two well-camouflaged family members peer out from the entrance

‘Duckling Huddle’ by Charles Davis (Australia) shows a wood duck and its brood caught in a late spring snowstorm in Smiggin Holes, New South Wales, Australia. It would normally be warm and sunny when these ducklings hatch from their nest high up in a tree hollow, but thanks to the La Niña effect things were a bit different this year. Warmer waters in the western Pacific meant more precipitation, resulting in more rain than normal in eastern Australia and cooler and wetter springs and summers. Despite the conditions, the ducklings chose to exit their nest, dropping down into a frozen world. Upon landing, they quickly became lost in a snowstorm as their mother frantically tried to lead them to open water

‘Incoming Cuckoo’ Wasp by Frank Deschandol (France) shows a  cuckoo wasp mid-air trying to enter a mason bee’s clay burrow as a smaller cuckoo wasp cleans its wings below near Montpellier, France. Mr Deschandol set up near the mason bee’s clay burrow, but it wasn’t this species he wanted to capture. Instead, he was hoping to photograph the rare cuckoo wasp that parasitises these bees. He was in luck, when not one but two cuckoo wasps appeared. The larger one tried to get into the sealed burrow containing the bee’s eggs, while the smaller one cleaned its wings below. While Mr Deschandol was taking some shots, the larger cuckoo wasp flew off, returning seconds later with a drop of water at its mouth. The wasp uses water and saliva to soften the clay so it can dig into the bee’s sealed-up burrow. Once inside it lays its own egg, then closes the burrow up again. When the cuckoo wasp’s egg hatches, it feeds on mason bee larvae inside the burrow

‘Troublemaker’ by Stefan Christmann (Germany) shows an Adélie penguin approaching an emperor penguin and its chick during feeding time in Antarctica’s Atka Bay. Mr Christmann watched intently to see how the interactions between these three penguins would play out. Adélie penguins only appear in Antarctica’s Atka Bay for a short period during the southern hemisphere summer. They’re opportunists and can be a nuisance for emperor penguins and their chicks. If the chance arises, Adélie penguins will try to cause the adult or the chick to drop its food while the chick is being fed, snatching any that falls to the ground

‘Rubbish Drinks’ by Claire Waring (UK) shows a Celebes crested macaque investigating the contents of a plastic bottle from a pile ready for recycling on a beach at the edge of Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Rangers had collected piles of plastic bottles for recycling. Most of them had washed up from the sea, and despite the sizeable pile, more would soon be added. The Celebes crested macaques have learnt that these bottles contain liquid and are often seen chewing off the caps to reach the contents. They’ve also worked out that the coloured bottles are more likely to contain sweet liquid and so pick these. Some even carried bottles away into the forest, frustrating the rangers’ efforts

‘Snowshoes’ by Deena Sveinsson (USA) shows a snowshoe hare pulling its feet to its head to make the next big hop across the soft, deep snow in the forests of the Rocky Mountain National Park, USA. It was a late spring morning and Ms Sveinsson was snowshoeing deep in the forests of the national park when she noticed this snowshoe hare sleeping on a small snow mound. Trying to be as quiet as possible, she positioned herself in front of it. Hours later the hare woke and hopped off the snow mound in Ms Sveinsson’s direction. Using a high frame rate, she captured the exact moment in its hop where the hare pulled its large back feet up next to its head. Its large feet prevent the hare from sinking into the deep, soft snow, acting like snowshoes hence its name the snowshoe hare

‘Hope’ by Roberto Garcia-Roa (Spain) shows a rescued chimpanzee looking on from its enclosure at the Chimpanzee Conservation Center in the Republic of Guinea. While photographing rescued chimpanzees at the facility, Mr Garcia-Roa captured this pensive portrait. Located in the National Park of Upper Niger, the center houses orphaned chimpanzees that have been rescued from being sold as pets after their mothers were killed for bushmeat. Once abundant in Guinea, the western chimpanzee population is declining, and the species is now classified as Critically Endangered. The centre rehabilitates the chimpanzees with the aim of releasing them back into the national park. It also works with local communities to show them

‘Neighbourhood Dispute’ by Ofer Levy (Australia) shows a mudskipper fiercely defending its territory from a trespassing crab in Roebuck Bay, Australia. Mudskippers can live both in and out of the water as long as they remain wet. They thrive along the intertidal mudflats and mangroves of Western Australia. These amphibious fish are fiercely territorial, often building mud walls around their territories where they feed and breed. This crab is evidently trespassing, and by opening its mouth and raising its dorsal fin, the mudskipper is challenging the intruder, attempting to scare it off with a threatening display. Ofer watched the two continually confront each other out on the mud flat – the mudskipper always initiating the clash

‘Autumn Glow’ by Uge Fuertes Sanz (Spain) shows a painting-like composition of bulrushes and quaking aspens framed in a small corner of the Cabriel River in the Sierra de Albarracin Mountains, Spain. To Mr Fuertes Sanz, this small corner of the river, among the bulrushes and quaking aspens, seemed as if it had been painted. The light and the composition of the plants between the trunks, together with the shapes and colours of the autumn leaves, created texture and balance. He took more than a hundred images while on the banks of the River Cabriel in the Sierra de Albarracin Mountains waiting patiently for a cloud to pass overhead so a soft light would wash over everything

‘Bull In A Garbage Dump’ by Brent Stirton (South Africa) shows a bull elephant kicking over garbage as it scavenges for rotten vegetables and fruit at a dump in Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka. A number of male elephants are attracted to this location not only by the rubbish but also by nearby crops. The scar from a gunshot wound on the upper part of this elephant’s left front leg and another wound high on its back indicate he’s an insistent crop raider. Human-elephant conflict often escalates from shouting and fireworks to frighten the elephants away from crops and people to shooting. The shots are seldom fatal and deter the elephants for a couple of months

‘Curiosity’ by Gerald Hinde (South Africa) shows a curious lion cub walking towards the photographer sitting in a vehicle under the watchful eye of its mother in South Africa’s Greater Kruger National Park. Lion cubs are vulnerable to other predators such as leopards and hyenas, but often the main threat is from invading male lions. For the first six weeks they’re kept hidden away, after this they’re introduced to the pride and protection is provided by all the members

‘Fashion Victims’ by Britta Jaschinski (Germany/UK) shows coats, made from the skins of some of the most endangered big cats, including snow leopard, jaguar and ocelot, which were confiscated by European customs officers and held for forensic tests before being used for educational events. The coats were held in Hamburg’s Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change for forensic tests before being used at educational events to ensure they never return to the black market. During the photoshoot, Ms Jaschinski learnt that on average the fur industry uses 12 animals to make one coat. Together with a biologist, she tried to identify how many cats were killed to produce the fashion items in this image, but they stopped counting, as it was just too shocking

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