It’s that time of year to take a look at the natural world through the eyes of some of the most talented wildlife photographers on the planet — and you can vote for your favourite. This week, the Natural History Museum in London released 25 images that it has shortlisted for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award. They’re everything you could want from wildlife photography: stunning closeups, incredible stories, and adorable mum-and-baby shots.
This year, more than 500,000 images from photographers in 95 different countries were entered into the museum’s 57th annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. The top five winners of the online voting will be displayed online. The Museum has already chosen its winners of the overall competition, which includes pictures of grizzlies chowing down, reindeer locking antlers, and giant newts-making sweet, sweet love.
“The People’s Choice Award offers striking observations of nature and our relationship with it, sparking our curiosity and strengthening our connection with the natural world,” Natalie Cooper, a researcher at the Natural History Museum and member of the judging panel, said in a statement. “It’s an incredible challenge to pick just one of these images, so we’re looking forward to discovering which wild moment emerges as the public’s favourite.”
We’ve compiled all 25 photos here, starting with this shot of zebras drinking at the Okaukuejo waterhole in Etosha National Park, Namibia that reminded photographer Lucas Bustamante of a “living barcode.” You can vote for your favourite photo through February 2, and winners will be announced February 9. And if you’re a wildlife photographer hoping to make the cut next year, you’re in luck — entry to the 58th annual competition closes December 9.
Dancing in the Snow
It’s the holidays, so let’s start off with something festive. This photo of two male pheasants, taken at the Lishan Nature Reserve in Shanxi Province, China, is a rare glimpse of these beautiful but often shy birds, who spend much of their time foraging on the forest floor for food.
This photo is festive, too, in a way that it reminds me of a crowded mall during the holiday season. Photographer Yung Sen Wu swam with a school of barracudas in Palau for five days trying to find the perfect angle, keeping up with the school’s fast pace. On the fifth day, he got his shot.
Meercats Put on a Pose
Hey, girl. Meerkats at the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve in South Africa are pretty used to being around people, as evidenced by this glamor shot photographer Thomas Peschak was able to get of this inquisitive face. Definitely one for this meerkat’s dating app.
The Ice Bear Cometh…
Photographer Andy Skillen waited in minus-22 degree-Fahrenheit (minus-30 degree-Celsius) weather at this spot at the Fishing Branch River in Yukon, Canada, only accessible by helicopter for this shot of a bear crossing a log. A female grizzly did a chilly tightrope walk, her fur covered in icicles from fishing in the river.
“You could hear them tinkle as she walked past,” Skillen said.
This photo could make the Grinch’s heart grow five sizes, at least. This baby and the two females cuddled around it are Sichuan snub-nosed monkeys, whose only habitat in temperate forests in the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi Province is under threat from deforestation and climate change.
Shelter From the Rain
Here’s another tender moment between two male lions on the Maasai Mara in Kenya, cuddling during an intense downpour. Awwww.
The Future in Her Hands
This cluster of baby orangutans is absolutely adorable — but they’re a heartbreaking reminder of the dangers these animals face in their native rainforests in Borneo. Industrial logging and agriculture are rapidly eating away at their habitat. The person in this photo is the babies’ keeper affiliated with the conservation nonprofit International Animal Rescue. They’re tasked with rehabilitating injured and orphaned babies, encouraging them to interact with each other, and trying to help them survive in the wild.
D’oh!!!! This adorable little tapir, photographed in the Braulio Carrillo National Park in central Costa Rica, has a name: Dantita. She’s a Baird’s tapir, known as “gardeners of the forest.” There are only 6,000 left in the wild.
Building an Egg Case
Cute — but make it creepy crawly! This photo of a thorned heart orb weaver spider and her egg case containing several hundred eggs is a rare glimpse of insect motherhood. It was taken at night in the Amazon rainforest near Tena, Ecuador.
Breath of an Arctic Fox
Just in time for the chilly months, here’s an Arctic fox catching its breath in Spitsbergen, Svalbard. The temperature at the time of this photo was minus-31 degree Fahrenheit (minus-35 degree Celsius) temperatures, the type of chill that can take your breath away. Arctic foxes can be hard to photograph since they’re so active, but this little one stopped to relax long enough for Marco Gaiotti to snap this shot.
Bonds of Love
The cuteness doesn’t stop. This photo of a baby elephant being comforted by its herd was taken at the Addo Elephant Reserve in South Africa. “There is something magical and beautiful when you observe elephants — it touches your soul and pulls at your heartstrings,” said photographer Peter Delaney.
Well, here’s a slightly disturbing-looking partnership. This photo shows a group of green tree ants working together to pin down a katydid in the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden in Yunnan Province, China. The ants aren’t killing the katydid, but are rather feeding off the sap these insects secrete. In return, katydids help protect the ants from predators.
The Eagle and the Bear
There’s nothing better in the animal photo world than a couple of strange buddies hanging out together. This photo shows a baby black bear taking a snooze in the temperate rainforest of Anan in Alaska, being watched by a juvenile golden eagle.
You don’t have to travel far to get fantastic photos of wildlife. This shot of a blackbird was taken by photographer Jan Leßmann from his front door in Greifswald, Germany.
Another incredible image of humans trying to help wildlife comes from Colombia, where a biologist cradles an Amazon river dolphin. Direct contact calms the dolphins in stressful situations, and the dolphins have faced no shortage of them. The team was transporting the dolphin to a veterinary facility to put a GPS tag in its fin, part of a larger project to understand where the dolphins live and their migratory patterns. The animal is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List due to fishing gear entanglements and pollution.
It’s not always humans coming into animal habitats; sometimes human and animal ecosystems are one and the same. This photo shows a rare species of Asian pheasant, known as a satyr tragopan, making itself at home in a village near Punakha, Bhutan. Photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee said he’d been trying to photograph this pheasant in the wild since 2008, but the shy birds usually run away from humans. Except for this time, apparently.
Jaguar of Ashes
The photos also show animals living in their natural habitats that have been forever changed by human involvement. In this photo, a jaguar sits up after rolling in the dirt, covered in ash from devastating wildfires that ravaged Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands in 2020.
Hitching a Ride
Another, less depressing photo from the Pantanal wetlands: This sweet image shows a baby anteater clinging to its mum’s back.
And I oop! A red squirrel leaps between trees in the Cairngorms, Scotland.
More piggybacks! This photo shows a group of Clark’s grebes on a lake near San Diego, California. Young chicks will climb on their parents’ back soon after hatching.
Some youngsters don’t want to sit so still. Photographer Maxime Aliaga caught this shot of an orangutan known as Marconi trying to keep her baby named Masen in the nest in the Pinus Jantho Nature Reserve of Sumatra Indonesia. Marconi was once held illegally as a pet. She was released back into the wild in 2011, and Masen was born in the wild — a slight sign of hope for a species in danger.
Hope in a Burned Plantation
Here’s another mum and baby in a habitat forever altered by humans. This eastern grey kangaroo and her joey are pictured in a burned out forest near Mallacoota, Victoria, Australia. They’re some of the survivors of devastating bush fires fuelled by climate change that swept over the country and killed or displaced an estimated 3 billion animals in 2019 and 2020.
Lynx Cub Licking
This Iberian lynx, one of the world’s most endangered creatures, can touch its tongue to its nose. Impressive! This little friend lives in Peñalajo, Castilla La Mancha, Spain. Conservation efforts in parts of Spain and Portugal are helping populations of the lynx recover.
Lake of Ice
Wildlife photography doesn’t mean just photos of animals. This photo shows the Santa Croce Lake in the province of Belluno, Italy, captured in the dead of winter. Photographer Cristiano Vendramin said the image is dedicated to a friend who loved the lake who had passed.