From the team at BBC Wildlife Magazine

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021 - The People's Choice Award

Browse the shortlisted images for The People's Choice Award of Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021, then vote for your favourite.

Published: January 12, 2022 at 7:00 pm
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About the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition is world-famous for showcasing fantastic wildlife images from around the world, and has been running for almost 60 years.

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The fifty-eighth Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition closed for entries on Thursday 9 December 2021.

This year’s competition attracted over 50,000 entries from professionals and amateurs across the world, and was won by French underwater photographer and biologist Laurent Ballesta with his image of camouflage groupers in French Polynesia

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London (NHM). The competition was originally founded in 1965 by BBC Wildlife Magazine, then called Animals. The NHM joined forces in 1984 to create the competition as it is known today, and now solely runs and owns it.

The People’s Choice Award are 25 images, in addition to the 100 photos chosen by the judging panel, which are voted on by the public.

More stunning images from Wildlife Photographer of the Year: 

“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,” says Dr Natalie Cooper, a researcher at the Natural History Museum and member of the judging panel. “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.”

The 25 images are currently on display at the highly acclaimed Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London, until the voting ends. The winner will then be showcased until the exhibition closes on 5th June 2022.

The top five People’s Choice Award images will also be displayed online, joining the winners of the fifty-seventh Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition chosen by the panel of judges and announced earlier this year.

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Vote online for the winner of the People’s Choice Award on the NHM website, and closes at 2pm (GMT) on 2nd February 2022.


To view the images as a slideshow, click on the arrows in the top right hand corner of the photos below.

Peek a boo - ©Michiel Van Noppen/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Peek a boo. © Michiel Van Noppen/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Michiel took this photo of Dantita, as she is fondly known, at the foothills of Braulio Carrillo National Park, close to San José in central Costa Rica. The Baird’s tapir or ‘gardeners of the forest’ are extremely important to their natural habitat, with some seeds only germinating after passing through the tapir.

But due to threats from deforestation and hunting, there are estimated to be only 6,000 individuals left in the wild. Conservation groups such as Proyecto Tapir Nicaragua and Nai Conservation have been set up to work closely with local communities to promote the importance of preserving the land and protecting an endangered species.

Working together - ©Minghui Yuan/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Working together. © Minghui Yuan/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

There were several big trees near Minghui’s hotel in the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden in Yunnan Province, China, and he’d noticed green tree ants on the trunks and was fascinated by their behaviour. This species of ant builds its nest in the tree crown, are ferocious by nature and good at catching all kinds of insects. One morning Minghui noticed a group of ants working together in perfect unity to restrain a green katydid.

These remarkable ants don’t always kill, they have been observed ‘farming’ certain types of insects, including leaf hoppers. The ants offer leaf hoppers protection from predators and parasites so that they can feed on the sweet sap the leaf hoppers excrete.

Bonds of love - ©Peter Delaney/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Bonds of love. © Peter Delaney/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Peter looked on as a herd of elephants closed ranks, pushing their young into the middle of the group for protection. A bull elephant had been trying to separate a newborn calf from its mother. Peter was photographing the herd in Addo Elephant Reserve, South Africa, when the newborn let out a shriek. The herd reacted instantly – blowing loud calls, flapping ears and then surrounding the young and reaching out their trunks for reassurance.

Elephants create bonds that last a lifetime, and they can show emotions from love to anger. Peter feels ‘There is something magical and beautiful when you observe elephants – it touches your soul and pulls at your heartstrings.’

Dancing in the snow - ©Qiang Guo/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Dancing in the snow. © Qiang Guo/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

In the Lishan Nature Reserve in Shanxi Province, China, Qiang watched as two male golden pheasants continuously swapped places on this trunk – their movements akin to a silent dance in the snow. The birds are native to China, where they inhabit dense forests in mountainous regions.

Although brightly coloured, they are shy and difficult to spot, spending most of their time foraging for food on the dark forest floor, only flying to evade predators or to roost in very high trees during the night.

Hitching a ride - ©Wim van den Heever/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Hitching a ride. ©Wim van den Heever/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

A female giant anteater was foraging around a huge open plain very late one afternoon in the Pantanal, Brazil, when Wim suddenly noticed she had a youngster on her back. He instinctively grabbed his camera and slowly crept up to a termite mound in the distance, which was in the general direction she was moving in.

Sitting quietly he waited for her to make her way over. But the light was fading quickly, and he began to wonder if he’d have time to capture the scene. After waiting quite some time – anteaters walk slowly – and holding some very heavy camera equipment, Wim was rewarded for his patience.

Barracudas - ©Yung Sen Wu/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Barracudas. © Yung Sen Wu/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

It was the schooling barracudas at Blue Corner, Palau, in the western Pacific, that grabbed Yung’s attention while diving in the turquoise seascape. He had been swimming with them for four days, but their formation constantly changed shape and he could not find the perfect angle. On the fifth day his luck changed when the fish seemed to accept him into the group.

Surrounded by the barracudas, he started to imagine how one fish sees another while swimming, and this was the picture he wanted. The fish were fast, and he had to swim hard to keep his place in the school. At the end of an exhausting 50 minutes, he got his perfect 'fish eye' view.

Monkey cuddle - ©Zhang Qiang/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Monkey cuddle. © Zhang Qiang/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Zhang was visiting China’s Qinling Mountains to observe the behaviour of the Sichuan snub-nosed monkey. The mountains' temperate forests are the endangered monkeys’ only habitat, which in itself is under threat from forest disturbance. Zhang loves to watch the dynamics of the family group – how close and friendly they are to each other.

And when it is time to rest, the females and young huddle together for warmth and protection. This image perfectly captures that moment of intimacy. The young monkey’s unmistakable blue face nestled inbetween two females, their striking golden-orange fur dappled in light.

The ice bear cometh… - ©Andy Skillen/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
The ice bear cometh… © Andy Skillen/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

It is a two-hour helicopter ride from the nearest town to this spot on the Fishing Branch River in Yukon, Canada – a location where the river never freezes however cold it gets. The salmon run occurs in the late autumn here and for the grizzly bears of the area this open water offers a final chance to feast before hibernating.

It was averaging around -30°C (-22°F) and Andy had been waiting and hoping that one particular female bear would use this log to cross the stream. Eventually she did just that and he got the picture he’d envisioned – her fur, wet from fishing, had frozen into icicles and ‘you could hear them tinkle as she walked past’.

Life in black and white - ©Lucas Bustamante/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Life in black and white. © Lucas Bustamante/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Dozens of plains zebra had showed up to drink at Okaukuejo waterhole in Etosha National Park, Namibia – a popular location for the animals of the area to quench their thirst caused by the searing heat of the sun. Packed closely together and moving as one, the zebra lowered their heads to get water and, almost immediately, robotically lifted them again to scan for danger.

This went on for five minutes and their stripes reminded Lucas of a living barcode. Focusing hard, his aim was to capture only one with its head up and, just before the herd left, he got the image he thinks best showcases these iconic black-and-white striped animals.

Stay close - ©Maxime Aliaga/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Stay close. © Maxime Aliaga/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Taking care of a young orangutan requires a lot of energy. Maxime spent more than one hour observing this mother in the Pinus Jantho Nature Reserve of Sumatra, Indonesia, trying to keep her excitable baby with her in the nest. Since 2011 the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program has released more than 120 confiscated apes into the reserve.

Their goal is to establish new wild populations as a safety net against decline. This mother, Marconi, was once held captive as an illegal pet, but was nursed back to health and released in 2011. In 2017 she was spotted with a wild born baby, Masen, a symbol of hope for the future population.

Breath of an Arctic fox - ©Marco Gaiotti/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Breath of an Arctic fox. © Marco Gaiotti/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Marco was watching this little Arctic fox as it incessantly called another nearby. Gradually he noticed the fox’s wet breath was quickly freezing in the air after each call. It was late winter in Spitsbergen, Svalbard, and the cold arctic air was -35°C (-31°F).

Photographing Arctic foxes is often frustrating, as they are normally running around fast in search of food, but this one was very relaxed and let Marco get close enough to focus on it, with the light glowing perfectly in the background.

All together - ©Ly Dang/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
All together. © Ly Dang/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The Clark’s grebes on Ly’s local lake in San Diego, California, USA, hadn’t nested for a few years, and he wasn’t sure if the unusually hot and dry weather they’d been experiencing was to blame. Then in 2017 California had twice its normal annual rainfall. With the lakes full, the grebes started to build nests and lay eggs again. They build floating nests at the edge of shallow water among the reeds or rushes.

The chicks hitch a cosy ride on a parent’s back soon after hatching. This picture was taken a few days after a storm which sadly washed away almost all of the grebes nests. Ly had been out on a boat for hours, scanning the surface, looking for grebes and, just as the light was fading, he spotted them, the survivors.

The jump - ©Karl Samitsch/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
The jump. © Karl Samitsch/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Karl was in the Cairngorms, Scotland, with a friend who took him to a forest where red squirrels were used to being fed. They placed hazelnuts on opposite branches of two trees and Karl then positioned his camera on a tripod between the branches facing the direction a squirrel might jump.

Setting his camera to automatic focus, he waited in camouflage gear behind a tree, holding a remote control. After less than an hour, two squirrels appeared. As they leapt between the branches, he used the high-speed burst mode on his camera, and of the 150 frames, four were sharp, and this one perfectly captured the moment.

The future in her hands - ©Joan de la Malla/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
The future in her hands. © Joan de la Malla/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Due to overexploitation – industrial logging and land clearing for plantation development – the rainforests of Borneo are disappearing fast. Because of this, endemic species like the orangutan are suffering and dying because of habitat loss and are under serious threat.

International Animal Rescue conducts the laudable task of rehabilitating orphaned or injured orangutans. They give them the health care they need and prepare them for reintroduction, when possible. Here, in a forest enclosure, a keeper takes care of babies – they are encouraged to mix with others of a similar age, make nests and forage for food.

Hope in a burned plantation - ©Jo-Anne McArthur/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Hope in a burned plantation. © Jo-Anne McArthur/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Jo-Anne flew to Australia in early 2020 to document the stories of animals affected by the devastating bushfires that were sweeping through the states of New South Wales and Victoria. Working exhaustively alongside Animals Australia (an animal protection organisation) she was given access to burn sites, rescues and veterinary missions.

This eastern grey kangaroo and her joey pictured near Mallacoota, Victoria, were among the lucky ones. The kangaroo barely took her eyes off Jo-Anne as she walked calmly to the spot where she could get a great photo. She had just enough time to crouch down and press the shutter release before the kangaroo hopped away into the burned eucalyptus plantation.

The eagle and the bear - ©Jeroen Hoekendijk/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
The eagle and the bear. © Jeroen Hoekendijk/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Black bear cubs will often climb trees, where they wait safely for their mother to return with food. Here, in the depths of the temperate rainforest of Anan in Alaska, this little cub decided to take an afternoon nap on a moss-covered branch under the watchful eye of a juvenile bald eagle.

The eagle had been sitting in this pine tree for hours and Jeroen found the situation extraordinary. He quickly set out to capture the scene from eye-level and, with some difficulty and a lot of luck, was able to position himself a bit higher on the hill and take this image as the bear slept on, unaware.

Building an egg case - ©Javier Aznar González de Rueda
Building an egg case. © Javier Aznar González de Rueda

While out on a night walk in the Amazon rainforest near Tena, Ecuador, Javier spotted this little female thorned heart orb weaver spider delicately constructing her egg case. Hanging from a strong silk thread, these female spiders spend hours encasing their eggs in a silken cocoon, which may contain up to several hundred eggs. On this dark night, the egg case resembled a pearly white full moon.

Blackbird backyard - ©Jan Leßmann/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Blackbird backyard. © Jan Leßmann/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Jan took great pleasure in watching this blackbird from his front door, in his home-town of Greifswald, Germany. It was spring and the blackbird had chosen an old garden hut in which to build her nest. Quietly and secretly she raised her young in this garden idyll.

With this image Jan wanted to highlight that we don’t have to go far to experience the beauty of nature – sometimes something as simple as a blackbird making her home in a rundown hut is enough.

Dolphin hug - ©Jaime Rojo/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Dolphin hug. © Jaime Rojo/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Jaime watched on as Federico Mosquera, a biologist from the Omacha Foundation, Colombia, soothed an Amazon river dolphin. These dolphins are extremely tactile animals and direct contact calms them – keeping them hydrated when out of the water is also extremely important. The team from Omacha and WWF were transporting the dolphin to a temporary veterinarian facility in Puerto Nariño, Colombia, to install a GPS tag in its dorsal fin.

The project is part of a broader scientific attempt to understand river dolphin health and migratory patterns. The goal was to tag five individuals, but high waters gave the dolphins a wider roaming range than usual, and the crew struggled, tagging only one during the expedition.

Jaguar of ashes - ©Ernane Junior/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Jaguar of ashes. © Ernane Junior/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The year 2020 saw fires in Brazil's Pantanal wetlands more than double compared to the year before – ‘a year never to be forgotten’ says Ernane. More than 26 per cent of the total area was affected, and the situation in Encontros das Águas State Park was even worse, with roughly 80 per cent burnt.

The park is known for its large jaguar population and Ernane was there documenting the fires when this jaguar and his brother crossed the Rio Três Irmãos (Three Brothers River) nearby. After reaching the opposite bank, the jaguar rolled in the ash left behind by the desolation of days before, leaving only his face uncovered, his now black body mirroring his charred surroundings.

Living together - ©Dhritiman Mukherjee/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Living together. © Dhritiman Mukherjee/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

For Dhritiman, Bhutan is an amazing place. He loves how most of the people try to live together with nature. Satyr tragopans, a rare species of Asian pheasant, are widely hunted for food and plumage, and are normally skittish and very shy. But in this village near Punakha, the birds appear at ease and perfectly relaxed in the presence of the people who live there.

Before he captured this image, Dhritiman had been trying to photograph the satyr tragopan in India since 2008, but the birds would always run away the minute they spotted him. Upon hearing of communities in Bhutan coexisting harmoniously with the species he knew he had to witness it for himself.

Lake of ice - ©Cristiano Vendramin/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Lake of ice. © Cristiano Vendramin/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Santa Croce Lake is a natural lake located in the province of Belluno, Italy. In winter 2019 Cristiano noticed the water was unusually high and the willow plants were partially submerged, creating a play of light and reflections. Waiting for colder conditions he captured the scene in icy stillness.

After taking the image, he was reminded of a dear friend, who had loved this place and is now no longer here, "I want to think he made me feel this feeling that I'll never forget. For this reason, this photograph is dedicated to him".

Shelter from the rain - ©Ashleigh McCord/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Shelter from the rain. © Ashleigh McCord/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

During a visit to the Maasai Mara, Kenya, Ashleigh captured this tender moment between a pair of male lions. At first, she had been taking pictures of only one of the lions, and the rain was just a light sprinkle, although the second had briefly approached and greeted his companion before choosing to walk away.

But as the rain turned into a heavy downpour, the second male returned and sat, positioning his body as if to shelter the other. Shortly after they rubbed faces and continued to sit nuzzling for some time. Ashleigh stayed watching them until the rain was falling so hard that they were barely visible.

Lynx cub licking - ©Antonio Liebana Navarro/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Lynx cub licking. © Antonio Liebana Navarro/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Iberian lynx are one of the world’s most endangered cats due to habitat loss, decreasing food sources, car hits and illegal hunting. But thanks to conservation efforts the species is recovering and can be found in small areas of Portugal and Spain. Antonio captured this image while leading a conservation project based around photography in Peñalajo, Castilla La Mancha, Spain.

He knew a family of lynx used this waterhole to drink, so he rigged up a hide close by. Focusing on this cub, he was lucky enough to capture the moment it lifted its head from the water, licked its lips and gazed straight into the camera.

Meercats put on a pose - © Thomas Peschak/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Meercats put on a pose. © Thomas Peschak/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

This group of meerkats in the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve in South Africa has been habituated to humans for over a decade, and is very relaxed around people. In fact, they mostly completely ignored Thomas’s presence, being way too preoccupied with lounging, hunting, grooming and fighting.

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He was therefore able to get in close and use a wide angle lens to include the arid savannah and mountains they call home. To capture the meercats features, he applied techniques used for people in a portrait session, and used studio lights to photograph them.

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