Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018 Winners: Blue-faced Golden Monkeys and More

01 © Marsel van Oosten - Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Grand Title Winner 2018, Animal Portraits: The golden couple by Marsel van Oosten, The Netherlands.

A male Qinling golden snub-nosed monkey rests briefly on a stone seat. He has been joined by a female from his small group. Both are watching intently as an altercation takes place down the valley between the lead males of two other groups in the 50-strong troop. It’s spring in the temperate forest of China’s Qinling Mountains, the only place where these endangered monkeys live. They spend most of the day foraging in the trees, eating a mix of leaves, buds, seeds, bark and lichen, depending on the season. Though they are accustomed to researchers observing them, they are also constantly on the move, and as Marsel couldn’t swing through the trees, the steep slopes and mountain gorges proved challenging. Whenever he did catch up and if the monkeys were on the ground, the light was seldom right. Also, the only way to show both a male’s beautiful pelage and his striking blue face was to shoot at an angle from the back. That became Marsel’s goal. It took many days to understand the group’s dynamics and predict what might happen next, but finally his perseverance paid off with this gift of a perfect situation, with a perfect forest backdrop and perfect light filtering through the canopy. A low flash brought out the glow of the male’s golden locks to complete the perfect portrait.

Nikon D810 + Tamron 24–70mm f2.8 lens at 24mm; 1/320 sec at f8; ISO 1600; Nikon SB-910 flash.
Marsel van Oosten/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018

The winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition have been revealed in a ceremony at London's Natural History Museum, which runs the international competition.
 
Dutch photographer Marsel van Oosten has won the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018 title for his extraordinary image "The Golden Couple," which frames a pair of golden snub-nosed monkeys in the temperate forest of China’s Qinling Mountains, the only habitat for these endangered primates. The winning portrait captures the beauty and fragility of life on earth, and a glimpse of some of the extraordinary, yet relatable, beings we share our planet with.

Marsel had to wait patiently for many days before the conditions enabled him to capture this image, which shows off the male monkey's golden locks and his striking blue face. 
 
The chair of the judging panel, Roz Kidman Cox, said: "This image is in one sense traditional—a portrait. But what a striking one, and what magical animals. It is a symbolic reminder of the beauty of nature and how impoverished we are becoming as nature is diminished. It is an artwork worthy of hanging in any gallery in the world."
 
Natural History Museum Director Sir Michael Dixon said: "In a world which is in thrall to special effects, this image celebrates the majestic and otherworldly presence of nature, and reminds us of our crucial role in protecting it."
 
Sixteen-year-old Skye Meaker took the award for Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018 with his charming portrait of a leopard waking from sleep in Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana. Skye has wanted to be a nature photographer since receiving his first pocket camera at the age of seven.
 
"With precisely executed timing and composition, we get a coveted glimpse into the inner world of one of the most frequently photographed, yet rarely truly seen, animals," said competition judge and previous competition winner Alexander Badyaev.
 
The two images were selected from 19 category winners, depicting the incredible diversity of life on our planet, from displays of rarely seen animal behavior to hidden underwater worlds. Images from professional and amateur photographers were judged by a panel of industry-recognized professionals for their originality, creativity and technical excellence.
 
Beating more than 45,000 entries from 95 countries, Marsel and Skye’s images will be on show in stunning lightbox displays with 98 other spectacular photographs. The exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London opens on October 19, 2018 before touring across the U.K. and internationally to locations such as Canada, Spain, the U.S., Australia and Germany.
 
New for 2018 is the Lifetime Achievement Award. This year acclaimed nature photographer Frans Lanting is being honored for his outstanding contribution to wildlife conservation over more than three decades. A showcase of his timeless photography will feature in the exhibition.
 
Open to photographers of all ages and abilities, the 55th Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition opens for entries on Monday October 22. 

02 © Joan de la Malla - Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Winner 2018, Wildlife Photojournalism: The sad clown by Joan de la Malla, Spain.

Timbul, a young long-tailed macaque, instinctively puts his hand to his face to try to relieve the discomfort of the mask he has to wear. His owner is training him to stand upright so that he can add more stunts to his street‑show repertoire (the word 'Badut' on the hat means clown). When he’s not training or performing, Timbul lives chained up in his owner’s yard next to a railway track in Surabaya, on the Indonesian island of Java. Should he show aggression as he gets older, his teeth might be pulled out or he will just be disposed of. Macaque street shows are banned in several cities, but still take place elsewhere in Indonesia. The macaques often work for hours performing tricks such as dancing and riding bikes. When the owners themselves aren’t working, they might rent out the monkeys. Animal-welfare charities are working at both political and community level to reduce the suffering of these monkeys and to enforce legislation that makes it illegal to take young monkeys from the wild or trade in them without a permit. But the welfare issues reflect other, deeper problems of social justice. Joan spent a long time gaining the trust of the monkey owners in Surabaya. "They are not bad people," he says, "and by doing street shows, they can afford to send their children to school. They just need other opportunities to make a living."

Nikon D810 + 24–70mm f2.8 lens; 1/250 sec at f2.8; ISO 100; Speedlight SB-800 flash.
Joan de la Malla/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018
02 © k Alejandro Prieto - Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Winner 2018, Wildlife Photojournalist Award, Story: Signature tree by Alejandro Prieto, Mexico.

From a winning photo story entitled Gunning for the Jaguar. A male jaguar sharpens his claws and scratches his signature into a tree on the edge of his mountain territory in the Sierra de Vallejo in Mexico’s western state of Nayarit. The boundary-post has been chosen with care—the tree has soft bark, allowing for deep scratch marks that are a clear warning, backed by pungent scent, not to trespass. Alejandro set up his custom-built camera trap some six meters (20 feet) up the tree and returned every month to change the batteries. Eight months elapsed before the jaguar eventually returned to this corner of his realm to refresh his mark. Jaguars need vast territories to have access to enough prey. But in Mexico, habitat is being lost at a rapid rate as forest is cleared for crops or livestock or for urban development, and much of what remains is fragmented. The loss of even a small area of habitat can cut a jaguar highway between one part of a territory and another and isolate the animal to such an extent that it cannot feed itself or find a mate.

Nikon D3300 + Sigma 10–20mm lens; 1/200 sec at f9; ISO 200; home-made waterproof camera box; two Nikon flashes + plexiglas tubes; Trailmaster infrared remote trigger.
Alejandro Prieto/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018
02 © Marco Colombo - Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Winner 2018, Urban Wildlife: Crossing Paths by Marco Colombo, Italy.

A shadowy movement caught Marco’s eye as he drove slowly through a village in the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park in Italy’s Apennine Mountains. It was late evening, and he thought there was a chance that it might be a Marsican brown bear rather than a deer waiting to cross the road. Stopping the car, he switched off the lights to avoid stressing the animal. He had just a few minutes to change lenses and prepare to take a shot through the windscreen before the bear walked out of the shadows and across the road, disappearing into the dark of the woods. Though the light was poor, the backdrop made up for it, complete with nature-tourism posters. Most Marsican brown bears—an isolated, unaggressive and critically endangered subspecies – stay well away from humans. A few individuals, though, venture into villages to raid vegetable gardens and orchards, especially in the run-up to winter hibernation, when they need to lay down fat. This puts them at risk of being hit by cars, of retaliatory poisoning and of harassment: video clips have appeared on social media made of bears being chased by cars. With just 50 or so bears remaining, every death is a disaster. Coexistence is possible, but only if a respectful distance is maintained. Electric fences around orchards help deter the bears from coming into the villages, and education can protect both the bears and the nature tourism they attract.

Nikon D700 + 28–70mm lens at 70mm; 1/50 sec at f4; ISO 6400; MaGear harness.
Marco Colombo/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018
03 © Cristobal Serrano, Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Winner 2018, Creative Visions: The ice pool by Cristobal Serrano, Spain.

On a cloudy day—perfect for revealing textures of ice—Cristobal scoured the Errera Channel on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. The constant current through this relatively calm stretch of water carries icebergs of all shapes and sizes. These mighty chunks of frozen fresh water have broken off (calved) from glaciers, ice shelves or larger icebergs. Their beauty—towering above the water and looming even larger beneath—is familiar, but their impact from above, less so. Selecting one that looked promising – about 40 meters (130 feet) long and rising up to 14 meters (46 feet) tall—Cristobal launched his low-noise drone and flew it high over the top, so as not to disturb any wildlife that might be using it for resting. The drone’s fresh perspective revealed an ice carving, whittled by biting winds and polar seas. Warmer air had melted part of the surface to create a clear, heart-shaped pool, within the sweeping curves of ice. The sculpture was set off by the streamlined forms of a few crabeater seals, in dark shades following their summer molt, and simply framed by the deep water.

DJI Phantom 4 Pro Plus + 8.8–24mm f2.8–11 lens; 1/120 sec at f4.5; ISO 100.
Cristobal Serrano/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018
04 © a Ricardo Núñez-Montero - Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Winner 2018, Behavior—Mammals: Kuhirwa mourns her baby by Ricardo Núñez Montero, Spain.

Kuhirwa, a young female member of the Nkuringo mountain gorilla family in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, would not give up on her dead baby. What Ricardo first thought to be a bundle of roots turned out to be the tiny corpse. Forced by the low light to work with a wide aperture and a very narrow depth of field, he chose to focus on the body rather than Kuhirwa’s face. Guides told him that she had given birth during bad weather and that the baby probably died of cold. At first Kuhirwa had cuddled and groomed the body, moving its legs and arms up and down and carrying it piggyback like the other mothers. Weeks later, she started to eat what was left of the corpse, behavior that the guide had only ever seen once before. Kuhirwa’s initial reactions to her bereavement echo responses to death seen in other species. From elephants stroking the bones of dead family members to dolphins who try to keep dead companions afloat, there is an abundance of credible evidence that many animals—ranging from primates and cetaceans to cats, dogs, rabbits, horses and some birds—behave in ways that visibly express grief, though individual reactions vary. Kuhirwa’s behavior can be understood as mourning, without the need to speculate about her thoughts.

Nikon D610 + 70–300mm f4.5–5.6 lens at 185mm; 1/750 sec at f5; ISO 2200.
Ricardo Núñez Montero/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018
04 © b Thomas P Peschak - Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Winner 2018, Behavior—Birds: Blood thirsty by Thomas P. Peschak, Germany/South Africa.

When rations run short on Wolf Island in the remote northern Galápagos, the sharp-beaked ground finches become vampires. Their sitting targets are Nazca boobies and other large birds on the plateau. Boobies thrive here, nesting among dense cactus thickets and fishing in the surrounding ocean, but the finches have a tougher time. The island has no permanent water and little rainfall. The finches—among the species that inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution—rely on a scant diet of seeds and insects, which regularly dries up. Pecking away at the base of booby flight feathers with their sharp beaks – a trait that may have evolved from feeding on the birds’ parasites, they drink blood to survive. "I’ve seen more than half a dozen finches drinking from a single Nazca booby," says Tom. Rather than leave and expose their eggs and chicks to the sun, the boobies appear to tolerate the vampires, and the blood loss doesn’t seem to cause permanent harm. Working on a climate-change story (the Galapagos may offer an early warning of the effects on biodiversity of global changes), Tom had secured a rare permit to land on the island. He made it up the steep cliffs, scrambling over loose rocks to reach the plateau. For maximum impact, he shot the bloody scene at bird’s eye level to capture the one female feeding and another waiting just behind.

Nikon D5 + 16–35mm f4 lens; 1/200 sec at f20; ISO 160; Profoto B1X 500 AirTTL flash.
Thomas P. Peschak/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018
04 © c David Herasimtschuk - Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Winner 2018, Behavior—Amphibians and Reptiles: Hellbent by David Herasimtschuk, USA.

It was not looking good for the northern water snake, clamped tightly in the jaws of a hungry hellbender, but it was a remarkable find for David. Drifting downstream in Tennessee’s Tellico River, in search of freshwater life (as he had done for countless hours over the past seven years), he was thrilled to spot the mighty amphibian with its struggling prey. North America’s largest aquatic salamander—up to 75 centimeters (29 inches) long—the hellbender has declined significantly because of habitat loss and degradation of the habitat that remains. Breathing primarily through its skin and seeking shelter and nest sites under loose rocks, it favors cool, flowing water in clear rocky creeks and rivers. Its presence indicates a healthy freshwater ecosystem. "It looked as though the hellbender had a firm grip and the snake was tiring," says David, "but then the snake squeezed its powerful body against the hellbender’s head." When the attacker tried to reposition its bite, wrinkly folds of skin rippling, the snake pushed free from its jaws and escaped. The intense drama was over in just a few minutes, but with quick reactions, David captured this rarely-seen behavior, portraying the "diabolic charisma" of the giant hidden just beneath the surface.

Sony a7R II + 28mm f2 lens + Nauticam WWL-1 lens; 1/60 sec at f13; ISO 1250; Nauticam housing; Inon Z-240 strobe.
David Herasimtschuk/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018
04 © d Georgina Steytler - Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Winner 2018, Behavior—Invertebrates: Mud-rolling mud-dauber by Georgina Steytler, Australia.

It was a hot summer day, and the waterhole at Walyormouring Nature Reserve, Western Australia, was buzzing. Georgina had got there early to photograph birds, but her attention was stolen by the industrious slender mud-dauber wasps, distinctive with their stalk-like first abdominal segments. They were females, busy digging in the soft mud at the water’s edge, and then rolling the mud into balls to create egg chambers to add to their nearby nests. A female builds her external nest completely out of mud, cylindrical chamber by chamber, which cement together into one mass as the mud hardens. She provisions each of the dozen or more cocoon-like chambers with the paralyzed bodies of orb‑weaving spiders, laying one egg on the first spider in each chamber—usually a soft-bodied species, which is easy for a newly hatched larva to eat. To get a good angle on the industrious mud‑daubers, Georgina lay in the mud, pre‑focused on a likely flight path and began shooting whenever a wasp entered the frame. It took hundreds of attempts to achieve her ideal shot, of two slender mud-dauber wasps, each displaying an aspect of their quintessential mud-handling skills.

Canon EOS-1D X + 600mm f4 lens + 1.4x extender; 1/4000 sec at f8; ISO 1000.
Georgina Steytler/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018
06 © Jan van der Greef - Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Winner 2018, Black and White: The vision by Jan van der Greef, The Netherlands.

Perfectly balanced, its wings vibrating, its tail opening and closing, with its tiny feet touching the spike for just an instant, an eastern mountaineer hummingbird siphons nectar from the florets of a red-hot-poker plant. Positioned by the flower, Jan had anticipated the bird’s behavior. For a number of days he had been stationed in the garden of his hotel in southern Peru, observing hummingbirds. He noticed that an eastern mountaineer—a species found only in Peru, characterized by its long, black-and-white forked tail—would rotate around the red-hot-poker spikes as it fed. He also saw that, when the bird moved behind a spike and its tail closed for a moment, a beautiful cross appeared. Determining to capture this strange vision, he staked out a spot underneath a single red-hot-poker plant (native to Africa, where it is pollinated by nectar‑drinkers such as sunbirds). It proved to be the hummingbird’s preferred garden source of energy-rich nectar. The low position of his wheelchair allowed him to set the spike against the sky, framing it with a dark surround of bushes. It took two half days to get the perfect shot, setting his camera to capture 14 frames a second, as the cross appeared for just a fraction of a second before its creator, with a burst of power, went on to the next flower on its route.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II + 500mm f4 lens; 1.4x III extender; 1/5000 sec at f5.6; ISO 4000; Gitzo tripod + Jobu gimbal head.
Jan van der Greef/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018
08 © Michael Patrick O'Neill - Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Winner 2018, Under Water: Night flight by Michael Patrick O’Neill, USA.

On a night dive over deep water in the Atlantic, far off Florida’s Palm Beach, Michael achieved a long-held goal, to photograph a flying fish so as to convey the speed, motion and beauty of this "fantastic creature". By day, these fish are almost impossible to approach. Living at the surface, they are potential prey for a great many animals, including tuna, marlin and mackerel. But they have the ability to sprint away from danger, rapidly beating their unevenly forked tails (the lower lobe is longer than the upper one) to build enough speed to soar up and out of the water. Spreading their long, pointed pectoral fins like wings, flying fish can glide for several hundred meters (more than 650 feet). At night, they are more approachable, moving slowly as they feed on planktonic animals close to the surface. In a calm ocean, Michael was able to get closer and closer to this individual, which became relaxed in his presence. In the pitch black, he tried various camera and light settings, all the while keeping track of both his subject—a mere 13 centimeters (5 inches) long—and his dive boat. The result is his "innerspace" vision of a flying fish.

Nikon D4 + 60mm f2.8 lens; 1/8 sec at f16; ISO 500; Aquatica housing; two Inon Z-220 strobes.
Michael Patrick O’Neill/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018
09 © Cristobal Serrano - Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Winner 2018, Animals in their environment: Bed of seals by Cristobal Serrano, Spain.

A small ice floe in the Errera Channel at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula provides barely enough room for a group of crabeater seals to rest, and the cracks are starting to show. It's the end of summer in the Antarctic, and so sea ice here is in short supply. Crabeater seals are widespread in Antarctica and possibly the most abundant of all seals anywhere. But they are also dependent on sea ice, for resting, breeding, avoiding predators such as killer whales and leopard seals, and accessing feeding areas. Despite their name, crabeaters are adapted to feed almost exclusively on Antarctic krill, using their interlocking, finely lobed teeth to sieve krill from the water. The krill itself is also dependent on sea ice, which provides winter shelter and food (algae). So any decline in sea ice will have a knock-on effect on such specialist krill predators, as will overfishing of krill. For the moment, there is no evidence of any decline in crabeaters, though in the vastness of their pack-ice habitat, it is very difficult to estimate their numbers. Positioned in a rubber dinghy in the channel beside the floe, Cristobal waited until the sea was relatively calm before launching his drone. The batteries would not last long in the cold, so he flew the drone "high and smoothly … using low-noise propellers to avoid disturbing the seals". The picture portrays the group, dozing, with a spattering of krill-colored seal excrement symbolizing their dependence on Antarctica’s keystone species.

DJI Phantom 4 Pro Plus + 8.8–24mm f2.8–11 lens; 1/200 sec at f5.6; ISO 100.
Cristobal Serrano/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018