Grey-Headed Flying Fox
Presenting 10 selected images from the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012 Contest, owned by BBC Worldwide and the Natural History Museum.
The grey-headed flying fox is the largest bat in Australia—and one of the most vulnerable. Once abundant, there are now only around 300,000 left. The main threats include loss of habitat, extreme-temperature events and human persecution (roosting in numbers, eating cultivated fruit and an undeserved reputation for bearing disease brings it into conflict with people). The bat is now protected throughout its range, but its future remains uncertain. Ofer Levy spent several days in Parramatta Park in New South Wales photographing the bat’s extraordinary drinking behavior. "At dusk, it swoops low over the water, skimming the surface with its belly and chest," he says. "Then, as it flies off, it licks the drops off its wet fur." To photograph this in daylight, Levy had to be in the right position on a very hot day, with the sun and the wind in the right direction, and hope a bat would be thirsty enough to risk drinking. "This required standing in chest-deep water with the camera and lens on a tripod for three hours a day for about a week in temperatures of more than 40 degrees."
Ofer Levy/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Jabruson was on his way to northern Mozambique to cover the poaching of elephants when, passing through a village, he saw a group of children with a tethered yellow baboon. It had been caught when its troop raided local crops, probably forced to by loss of habitat. "Few animals show such human expressions," says Jabruson, "and this youngster’s face spoke volumes." Then things got tricky when men appeared demanding that he buy it. The best he could do was take a picture "to highlight yet another human-wildlife conflict issue so common in Central Africa." He never knew the youngster’s fate. Without access to the appropriate wildlife authorities, he had no alternative but to leave it—another sad example of humans and wild animals clashing over dwindling resources.
Jabruson/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year
For five days, Jean Tresfon had been trying to photograph the feeding frenzy that develops when sardines and herrings migrate off South Africa’s Wild Coast. His luck finally changed in clear water a few miles off Port St Johns. "Activity was intense, with dolphins herding the fish into a ball from below, while Cape gannets rained down from above. I couldn’t wait to get in the water." Gannets were plunging down several meters at great speed, catching and swallowing several fish in a dive. In contrast, Cape cormorants diving from the surface were much less successful. But what they lacked in fishing skill they made up for with thievery. "In this picture," says Jean, "the gannet is desperately trying to swallow a herring as a gang of cormorants gives chase."
Jean Tresfon/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year
The End of Sharks
Workers at Dong Gang Fish Market in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, routinely process thousands of frozen shark fins a day to service the growing international demand for shark-fin soup. Once a delicacy, the dish is increasingly popular with China’s growing middle class. The statistics are grim: up to 100 million sharks are killed each year, 73 million for their fins to service this demand, taking one in three shark species to the brink of extinction. Since 1972, in the northwest Atlantic, the blacktip shark population has fallen by up to 93 percent, the tiger shark by 97 percent and the bull shark, dusky shark and smooth hammerhead populations by 99 percent or more. Many millions of sharks are taken solely for their fins and get thrown back into the ocean, where it takes hours for them to die. Says Paul, "It was sobering to think how many sharks had been killed to produce this pile of fins for a soup that isn’t even healthy" (the fins contain high levels of methylmercury). Another somber thought: in the time that it has taken to read this caption, around 50 sharks will have been slaughtered worldwide.
Paul Hilton/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year
North Sound, off the island of Grand Cayman, is a hotspot for friendly southern stingrays—individuals accustomed to interacting with humans. Fishermen historically discarded their unwanted fish parts once they reached the calm waters of the sandbar at the Sound. The stingrays gathered for an easy meal and learned to associate the boat-engine noise with food. Today, snorkelers gather in the waist-deep water to meet these charismatic fish. Inspired by David Doubilet’s original split-level portrait of a Cayman stingray, Claudio set out to capture an image of the stingrays with a different perspective. "There were about 75 of them undulating through the shallows," he says. Balancing the light was a problem "because of the extremes in contrast between the dramatic evening sky and sandy sea bottom," but keeping people out of the picture proved to be more of a challenge than executing the composition.
Claudio Gazzaroli/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year
The First Nations people of British Columbia, Canada, have for centuries revered the spirit bear, or Kermode bear, to be found in the Great Bear Rainforest—a vast, old-growth temperate rainforest that runs up from southern B.C. to Alaska. The spirit bear is a rarity—a black bear with recessive genes that give it a creamy white coat. Its other name, "ghost bear," reflects its elusiveness. Paul Nicklen encountered this individual in September, at the height of the salmon run, when the bears are feasting on the fish bonanza and fattening up in preparation for hibernation. Spirit bears seem to prefer to escape the busy bear-fishing areas and wander into the forest to savor their meals in peace. "I followed this bear until it settled down to eat. I was crouched less than a meter away," says Paul, "but he was very chilled and acted as though I wasn’t there. It was really a dream come true, a dream I’d had since a kid, to walk through the forest with a bear." The Great Bear Rainforest is one of the largest unspoilt temperate rainforests left, and it’s the only place where spirit bears can be found. First Nations people are using the spirit bear as an ambassador animal in their campaign against a pipeline that will carry oil from Canada’s tar sands in Alberta down to the B.C. coast. The pipeline and associated infrastructure will destroy forest, but the greatest concern is the risk of an oil spill from a tanker entering the hazardous coastal channel to collect the oil—one spill could wipe out an entire coastal ecosystem.
Paul Nicklen/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year
"This was the filthiest shoot I have ever done," says Jasper Doest. "Clambering about this ghastly landfill site in southern Spain made me aware of just how much trash we generate on a daily basis." In the Andalucía region of Spain and elsewhere, the dumps are affecting the storks’ natural behavior. Instead of feeding on frogs, insects, young birds, rodents and worms, they are attracted to this ready source of rotting food, ingesting potentially lethal elements, even feeding them to their chicks. But population counts have revealed that, in recent years, rubbish dumps have become increasingly important to white storks, providing a constant food source during both the breeding season and winter and helping to increase their numbers. The concern, though, is that some populations are now so dependent on rubbish that the replacement of dumps with incinerators, combined with increasing loss of their natural habitat, may cause a future decline in numbers.
Jasper Doest/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Green Sea Turtle
Armeñime, a small cove off the south coast of Tenerife, is a hotspot for green sea turtles. They forage there on the plentiful seagrass and are used to divers. Jordi Chias cruised with this one in the shallow, gin-clear water over black volcanic sand. "The dazzling colors, symmetry and textured patterns were mesmerizing," says Chias, "and I was able to compose a picture to show just how beautiful this marine treasure is." Like the other seven species of sea turtles, the green sea turtle is endangered, with populations declining worldwide. The many threats include habitat degradation, building development on their breeding beaches, ingestion of rubbish such as plastics and entanglement in fishing gear.
Jordi Chias/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year
In winter, Japanese macaques in the Jigokudani Valley of central Japan congregate in the hot-spring pools to stay warm and to socialize. The colder it gets in the mountains, the more of them head for the pools, as do humans. Jasper Doest found about 30 macaques enjoying a steamy soak, their heads covered in fresh snow. "The warm water has a very relaxing effect on the monkeys, and most of them were asleep." He watched with delight as this youngster became increasingly drowsy and eventually closed its eyes. "It’s such an honor when an animal trusts you enough to fall asleep in front of you," says Doest. "I used a close-up shot to capture the moment of tranquility and to emphasize the human likeness in both face and pleasure."
Jasper Doest/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Charlie Hamilton-Jones was filming lions around the Gol Kopjes area of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania when he came across these cheetahs. They were watching lions. "Once the danger had gone," Hamilton-Jones says, "they relaxed into a gloriously symmetrical pose, in the middle of a curved rock, under a symmetry of clouds, crowned by a perfectly positioned small cloud at the top." He adds that "normally when taking wildlife pictures, everything conspires against the photographer, but with this picture it was the reverse. Everything worked in harmony." The cheetahs stayed posed for only a few minutes and afterwards, as though on cue, went straight to sleep. Charlie chose to photograph them with a converted infrared camera, which in bright sunlight makes an azure sky dark and dramatic.
Charlie Hamilton-James/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year