The Best Wildlife Photographs of 2021, as Chosen by the People

The Best Wildlife Photographs of 2021, as Chosen by the People
A juvenile bald eagle gazes upon a sleeping black bear cub in Alaska. (Photo: Jeroen Hoekendijk/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

With the 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year in the books, it’s time to let the public choose the top nature images from the past year. The contest, produced by the Natural History Museum, London, saw over 50,000 photos entered from 95 countries. For the People’s Choice award, the public was asked to vote on a shortlist of 25 photos, of which one was chosen as the overall winner and four as “highly commended” finalists.

These top five images, along with the recent winners of the 57th Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition (as chosen by a panel of expert judges), will be showcased at an upcoming Natural History Museum exhibition and displayed online.

“Lake of ice”

Photo: Cristiano Vendramin/Wildlife Photographer of the YearPhoto: Cristiano Vendramin/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Italian photographer Cristiano Vendramin won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award 2021 for this mesmerising view of Santa Croce Lake in Belluno, Italy. The photo received over 31,800 votes, establishing it as the overall winner of the competition.

Vendramin visited the lake in 2019, at which time he noticed the unusually high water level and the partially submerged willow plants, not to mention the stunning reflections, the interplay of light, and stark colour palette. The scene also reminded Vendramin of a friend who adored this spot but is no longer with us. In an emailed press release, Douglas Gurr, director of the Natural History Museum, said the “poignant image symbolises the positive impact nature can have on our wellbeing and lives,” as it can “provide solace and a space to reflect on the past and even spark hope for the future.”

“Shelter from the rain”

Photo: Ashleigh McCord/Wildlife Photographer of the YearPhoto: Ashleigh McCord/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

A touching image of two male lions sharing a tender moment in the midst of a heavy downpour was one of the four highly commended photos. Ashleigh McCord of the United States captured the photo of the pair while visiting the Maasai Mara in Kenya. McCord said the affectionate behaviour got more intense as the rain got heavier, and at one point the deluge got so intense she could barely see the cuddly cats through the rain.

“The eagle and the bear”

Photo: Jeroen Hoekendijk/Wildlife Photographer of the YearPhoto: Jeroen Hoekendijk/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

This photo by Jeroen Hoekendijk from the Netherlands is as amusing as it is terrifying. Black bear cubs often climb trees while waiting for their mothers to return with food, but this little guy took the opportunity to sneak in a quick nap. Unbeknownst to the cub, however, a juvenile bald eagle had been roosting in the same tree and decided to come in for a closer look — perhaps out of curiosity or to ponder a possible meal (I’m imagining the reaction of the cub upon awakening). Hoekendijk captured this eye-level view of the unlikely pair by climbing a nearby hill, located in Anan, Alaska.

“Hope in a burned plantation”

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur/Wildlife Photographer of the YearPhoto: Jo-Anne McArthur/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

This haunting image of an eastern grey kangaroo and her joey captures the plight of Australian animals in the wake of devastating bushfires that ravaged parts of New South Wales and Victoria in 2020. Jo-Anne McArthur of Canada took this photo at a burned eucalyptus plantation, which she did to document the effects of the fires on wildlife.

“Dancing in the snow”

Image: Qiang Guo/Wildlife Photographer of the YearImage: Qiang Guo/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Photographer Qiang Guo of China captured an extraordinary image of two male golden pheasants jockeying for position atop a tree trunk in the Lishan Nature Reserve in Shanxi Province. The wings of the bird in flight are particularly striking, as is the proud pose of his brightly coloured companion. These birds are native to China, and despite these bold gestures, are actually quite shy, preferring to forage for food on the dark forest floor.