After receiving over 45 000 entries, the Natural History Museum in London announced its Wildlife Photographer of the Year on 16 October and one of the winners happens to be a young South African.
Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year
In the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year category, South African photographer Skye Meaker took top honours with his image of a female leopard called Mathoja taken in the Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana. Skye is all of 16 years old, but has been snapping away since the age of seven.
Mathoja was dozing when they finally found her, lying along a low branch of a nyala tree. And she continued to doze all the time they were there, unfazed by the vehicle. “She would sleep for a couple of minutes. Then look around briefly. Then fall back to sleep,” says Skye. Mathoja means ‘the one that walks with a limp’. Skye calls her Limpy. She limps because of an injury as a cub, but otherwise she is now a healthy eight-year-old, and she remains the calmest of leopards around vehicles. Though she dozed just metres away from Skye, she blended into the background, the morning light was poor, leaves kept blowing across her face, and her eyes were only ever open briefly, making it hard for Skye to compose the shot he was after. Finally, just as she opened her eyes for a second, the overhead branches moved enough to let in a shaft of light that gave a glint to her eyes, helping him to create his memorable portrait.
Marsel van Oosten of the Netherlands was awarded the top honour in the adult category for his image of two Qinling golden snub-nosed monkeys in the Qinling Mountains in the Shaanxi Province of China.
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.
Three more South African photographers were recognised on the evening in categories such as Animal Portraits and Behaviour: Mammals.
Isak Pretorius received a Highly Commended for his image a lioness at a watering hole in Zambia in the Animal Portraits category.
Tertius A Gous received a Highly Commended in the Behaviour: Mammals category of a group of meerkats in Namibia’s Brandberg Mountain.
Filmmaker Susan Scott received Highly Commended in the Wildlife Photojournalism Award for her image of two black rhino orphans. The image was taken while working on her latest documentary Stroop: Journey into the Rhino Horn War which has also received high praise of late from various international film festivals.
All the winners will be on exhibition at the NHM from Friday, 19 October. Entries for next year’s competition opens on 22 October and closes on 13 December.