10 of the Most Stunning Wildlife Pictures of the Year

See some of the most stand-out, stunning images of this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition that saw a record of 50,000 entries from 95 countries.

Tim Laman spent three days using rope to climb up and down a tree in Indonesian Borneo, placing cameras at various angles to prepare for the return of an orangutan he knew would return to eat.

When the great ape came back, Laman shot the picture—and now, he is the grand-prize winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

The contest, which is open to professional and amateur competitors worldwide, saw a record 50,000 entries from 95 countries in 2016.

“Wildlife Photographer of the Year highlights some of the big questions for society and the environment: How can we protect biodiversity? Can we learn to live in harmony with nature?” Michael Dixon, director of the Natural History Museum in London, which runs the competition, said in a statement.

“The winning images touch our hearts, and challenge us to think differently about the natural world,” Dixon added.

Laman hopes his photograph helps protect habitat for the Southeast Asian apes, which are declining due to habitat loss. In July, the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared both species—the Sumatran and Bornean orangutan—critically endangered.

“If we want to preserve a great ape that retains its vast culturally transmitted knowledge of how to survive in the rain forest and the full richness of wild orangutan behavior, then we need to protect orangutans, now,” Laman said in a statement. 

National Geographic photographer Charlie Hamilton James was recognized again for his work on vultures, earning top honors in the story category. He was last recognized in 2015. A hundred photographs from the competition will be shown at an exhibit starting October 21 at the Natural History Museum in London.

A panel of industry professionals selected winners in 16 categories, 10 of which are shown above. They judged on three factors: creativity, artistry, and technical complexity.

View the gallery to see some of this year's winners, which show both the brutality and beauty of the animal kingdom.

Grand Prize Winner
A Bornean orangutan climbs a strangler fig that has entwined itself around a tree in Gunung Palung National Park, Indonesia. It took Tim Laman three days of climbing up and down with rope and multiple GoPro placements to get this shot. PHOTOGRAPH BY TIM LAMAN

Winner, ImpressionsAs soon as Luis Javier Sandoval slipped into the water off Isla Espíritu Santo in the Gulf of California, these curious young California sea lions came over for a better look. One of the pups grabbed a sea star from the bottom and started throwing it to Sandoval. PHOTOGRAPH BY LUIS JAVIER SANDOVAL

Winner, Black and WhiteEurasian pygmy owls form pair bonds in autumn that last through to spring. Mats Andersson enjoyed the company of this pair—until the night he found one of them lying dead on the forest floor in Råshult, southern Sweden. "The owl’s resting posture reflected my sadness for its lost companion," he says. PHOTOGRAPH BY MATS ANDERSSON

Winner, DetailsWhen the rains begin in Brazil’s Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, an impermeable layer beneath the sand allows water to collect in the dune valleys, forming thousands of transient lagoons. Rudi Sebastian planned his trip well in advance to allow time to capture the phenomenon. A few weeks later, the scene had evaporated.
PHOTOGRAPH BY RUDI SEBASTIAN

Winner, UrbanAt night, in a suburb of Mumbai bordering Sanjay Gandhi National Park, leopards slip ghostlike through the maze of alleys, looking for food. Though India's leopards are usually in the news when they clash with people, Nayan Khanolkar wanted his pictures to show a different take on the big cats. After four months, he got his shot.
PHOTOGRAPH BY NAYAN KHANOLKAR

Winner, Underwater For several days each month (in tandem with the full moon), thousands of two-spot red snappers gather to spawn around Palau in the western Pacific Ocean. The action is intense as the fish fill the water with sperm and eggs. It took Tony Wu years to get this photograph.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TONY WU

Winner, Plants and FungiGusts of wind release showers of pollen from this hazel tree in northern Italy. To create the dark background, Valter Binotto positioned himself to backlight the flowers.
PHOTOGRAPH BY VALTER BINOTTO

Winner, Young Wildlife Photographer of the YearA crow perching on a tree is a scene that Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year division winner Gideon Knight had seen many times near his home in London's Valentines Park. For a more unique angle, he positioned himself on a slope opposite the bird to capture this silhouette.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GIDEON KNIGHT

Winner, Single ImageNothing prepared photographer Paul Hilton for what he saw in the major port of Belawan in Sumatra: some 4,000 defrosting pangolins, part of one of the largest seizures of the scaly anteaters on record. The carcasses were destined for China and Vietnam for the exotic-meat trade or for traditional medicine (their scales are believed to treat a variety of ailments).
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL HILTON

Winner, Birds These Indian rose-ringed parakeets had returned to their roosting and nesting hole high up in a tree in India's Keoladeo National Park (also known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary) to find that a Bengal monitor lizard had taken up residence. Even shooting against the light, with only a few seconds of opportunity, Ganesh H. Shankar got his picture.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GANESH H SHANKAR

Discuss this article

Newsletter

Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address
Submit