Best wildlife photos of 2021 capture rare Iberian lynx, snake strangling gecko, and blood-dripping lion

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Sergio Marijuán / Wildlife photographer of the year

The Iberian lynx has almost disappeared from the face of the Earth.

Hunting, poaching and habitat loss have slaughtered the wild cats of the Iberian Peninsula. In 2002, there were less than 100 Iberian lynxes left in Spain and they were completely wiped out in Portugal.

But conservation efforts have brought them back from the brink of extinction. The elusive animals have even started to overlap with humans again.

The young lynx in the photo above grew up in an abandoned hayloft in Spain’s Sierra Morena mountains. Photographer Sergio Marijuán set up his camera among the hay and waited months to take the photo: the lynx posed in the doorway, its hind legs outstretched, looking straight into the camera.

The image tops the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, which is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum in London. The competition aims to highlight the diversity and fragility of the planet’s fauna.

This year, the competition attracted more entries than ever before – over 50,000 photos from photographers from 95 countries.

“These extraordinary images showcase the rich diversity of life on Earth and arouse curiosity and wonder,” Doug Gurr, director of the Natural History Museum, said in a press release. “Telling the story of a planet under pressure, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition highlights the pressing challenges we face and the collective action we must take. “

The museum will announce the winning images in October, but on Tuesday it released a small sample of its top picks. Below are nine of the “highly recommended” favorites.

Several photos show predators in difficulty

four cheetahs scowl swimming against the tumultuous brown waters

Buddhilini de Soyza / Wildlife photographer of the year

In January 2020, these male cheetahs braved rough waters to reach new hunting grounds across the swollen Talek River in Kenya. Photographer Buddhilini from Soyza followed them along the opposite shore for hours as they chose their crossing point.

“A few times the lead cheetah waded into the river, only to turn around,” de Soyza said in a statement about the photo.

Animals avoided calmer bodies of water, perhaps fearful of crocodiles, before jumping and paddling. De Soyza feared they would not survive the raging river, which was high due to unusually heavy rains. But the five cheetahs (one did not fit in the photo) made it through.

This gecko fought for his life but ended up in a reel of death

green snake wrapped around a blue gecko with red spots gripping the snake's head in its mouth

Wei Fu / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Photographer Wei Fu was taking pictures of birds in a park in Bangkok, Thailand, when he heard croaking and hissing. He followed the ruckus and found a red dot tokay gecko perched in a tree, screaming warning sounds at a golden snake slowly descending towards him from a higher branch.

The snake launched itself at the gecko, biting it and injecting venom. The lizard clamped its powerful jaws around the snake’s head in defense.

They fought, but after a few minutes the snake had coiled around the gecko, expelled its life, and began the slow process of swallowing it whole.

A young clumsy white-tailed kite missed a pass

a white bird with wings spread in the air holds the mouse in its claws while the smaller bird with brown spots reaches the claws to pick up the mouse

Jack Zhi / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The Californian bird was attempting to snatch a living mouse from its father’s claws while soaring through the air, according to photographer Jack Zhi. This is how the juvenile must eat until it can hunt for itself. The exchange is also convenient for future courtship displays, when a male bird offers prey to a female.

This young speckled with gold had only been flying for two days. He awkwardly tried to reach for his claws to grab the mouse, but didn’t quite get the prize. However, he learned quickly and went around to catch his prey behind the older bird.

Other predators have had more success

lion dripping with fresh blood looks into the camera

Lara Jackson / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

This young lioness from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania started eating her wildebeest prey while she was still alive. With one paw holding the ailing animal and bright red blood flowing from its muzzle, she stared straight into photographer Lara Jackson’s camera.

A 10-year-old photographed this parakeet feeding its young

bright green parakeet welcomes three green chicks poking their heads out of a tree

Gagana Mendis Wickramasinghe / Wildlife photographer of the year

Gagana Mendis Wickramasinghe was stranded at home when Sri Lanka entered detention in the spring of 2020, so he spent his time sitting on the balcony of his parents’ room with his older brother, watching a pair of ring-necked parakeets raise their young.

The parakeets had chosen a dead areca nut palm that Gagana’s parents had left standing to attract wildlife. The parakeets’ hole was eye level from their balcony, which gave Gagana and her brother plenty of time to experiment with their cameras and swap lenses to snap photos of the vibrant green birds.

On an island within an island, a red fox retrieved dead salmon

the fox sneaks through the dark shallow waters

Jonny Armstrong / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

This animal is one of two foxes living on a small island in Karluk Lake, nestled on Kodiak Island in Alaska. Photographer Jonny Armstrong followed the fox for several days as she pounced on birds, ate berries and even bit the heels of a young brown bear.

Then a storm started to roll in, providing a dark backdrop. As the vixen scanned the shallows for dead sockeye salmon after spawning, Armstrong lay face down by the water’s edge to capture his focused gaze.

Narwhal shrimp can communicate through their antennae

narwhal shrimp drift in feathery blue coral with their antennae touching

Laurent Ballesta / Wildlife photographer of the year

When Laurent Ballesta went diving with his camera off the Mediterranean coast of France, he came across a strange scene. Thousands of narwhal shrimp swayed in the coral more than 250 feet below the surface. Their long, thread-like antennae touched each other – a contact that may play a role in social behaviors like mating.

Some images show animals outside their habitat, such as this orphan bat

baby bat lies on a table with a baby blanket with human hand cradling the bat

Douglas Gimesy / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

This gray-headed flying fox puppy was only three weeks old when someone found her on the ground in Melbourne, Australia.

At a shelter, the guards fed her special formula and laid her on a “mom roll,” which simulates a mother bat that she can wrap her legs and wings around. They even gave her a pacifier to suck on. It was then that photographer Douglas Gimesy captured his portrait.

After a few months, the orphan can be weaned on fruit and flowering eucalyptus trees, then released to a colony of wild bats nearby.

Gray-headed flying foxes only live in eastern Australia. Their numbers are dwindling in the face of extreme heat, deforestation and human infrastructure like power lines and barbed wire, where they often get caught.

Climate change also threatens the Apollo butterfly

the black and white butterfly settles on the white daisy

Emelin Dupieux / Wildlife photographer of the year

On summer vacation in the Haut-Jura Regional Nature Park, on the border of France and Switzerland, Emelin Dupieux took advantage of the flowered pastures and butterflies. One of its favorites, the Apollo, is one of the most threatened in Europe, as its mountain habitats are warming due to climate change.

With wings that extend up to 3.5 inches, the black and white butterfly was not difficult to follow, but it was difficult to photograph – the oxeye is perched, it swings easily in the wind. After much manipulation of the settings and focus of his camera, Dupieux took this peaceful photo, titled “Apollo landing”.

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