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Wildlife photographer of the year disqualified for using a stuffed animal

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Marcio Cabral’s photo won the category for Animals in their Environment in 2017

The disqualified photo.
Photo: Marcio Cabral

Judges of the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year have disqualified a winning contestant after the anteater in his prize-winning photograph was judged “highly likely” to be a taxidermy specimen. Called “The Night Raider,” the image was taken by photographer Marcio Cabral and depicts an anteater underneath starry skies next to a termite mound dotted with glowing bioluminescence. A team of five scientists all judged the work to be a fake, a conclusion Cabral strongly denies.

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition is run by the Natural History Museum in London, and Cabral’s photo won the category for Animals in their Environment in 2017. The NHM started an investigation into the photo after it was contacted in March by anonymous sources who questioned the authenticity of the image. The NHM said it was given evidence including high resolution photos of a taxidermy anteater at Portão do Bandeira gate, one of the entrances of Emas National Park in Brazil where the winning photo was taken.

In a statement, the NHM said:

“After a thorough investigation, the museum concluded that the available evidence points to this allegation being true. As a result, the museum believes that the image breaches the competition rules, which state that ‘entries must not deceive the viewer or attempt to misrepresent the reality of nature.’”

The NHM said it consulted with external experts who specialize in South American mammals and anteaters on the photo. They worked independently and said there were “elements of the animal’s posture, morphology, raised tufts of fur and patterns on the neck and head that are too similar for the images to show two different animals.”

A photograph of the taxidermy anteater, provided by anonymous third-party sources
Photo: Natural History Museum

The NHM said Cabral had fully cooperated with the investigation and supplied RAW file images taken before and after the winning shot, but none included the anteater. Cabral also provided a witness who said he saw the live anteater and also gave the NHM an explanation about why he had no other images of the anteater. According to The Guardian, Cabral’s original caption for the photo claimed he spent days frustrated by rain at Emas National Park, before a “giant anteater ambled out of the darkness,” staying “just long enough” to be captured in one single long-exposure shot.

Cabral is no longer considered a category winner of the competition, and the photograph has been removed from the NHM’s exhibition, website, and world tour. The NHM said Cabral will not be able to enter the competition again.