A Siberian tiger just gave the world the hug it needs in 2020. The intimate moment was caught on hidden camera by Sergey Gorshkov, whose photo, “The Embrace,” just won him the prestigious title of Wildlife Photographer of the Year.
“A scene like no other”
In the photo, the endangered tiger stands on its hind legs with its front legs wrapped around a Manchurian fir tree. The big cat’s face is deliciously at peace as it marks the tree with its scent.
“It’s a scene like no other, a unique glimpse of an intimate moment deep in a magical forest,” Roz Kidman Cox, chair of the judging panel, said in an October 13th statement. “Shafts of low winter sun highlight the ancient fir tree and the coat of the huge tigress as she grips the trunk in obvious ecstasy and inhales the scent of tiger on resin, leaving her own mark as her message.”
Her message resonated with judges, who selected the winner from more than 49,000 entries in the prestigious annual competition held by the Natural History Museum in London. “It’s also a story told in glorious colour and texture of the comeback of the Amur tiger, a symbol of the Russian wilderness,” Cox said.
Siberian, or Amur tigers, are a subspecies of tiger with a great comeback story. By the late 1940s, hunting had decimated their population — spread across the Russian Far East, northeastern China, and Korean Peninsula — down to only 20 to 30 individuals left in the wild. In 1947, Russia became the first country to give the tigers legal protection. Today, although threats from poachers and logging remain, up to 550 Amur tigers roam their old territories.
Gorshkov, a founding member of the Russian Union of Wildlife Photographers, took his photo in Russia’s Land of the Leopard National Park. He set up motion-sensor cameras and waited more than 11 months to collect his prize-winning shot, taken with a Nikon Z7 and 50mm f/1.8 lens.
The comeback cat faced some pretty darn cute competition from other creatures caught in a moment of serenity. Photographer Mogens Trolle won the animal portraits category with a photo of an endangered proboscis monkey basking in the sunlight in Sabah, Borneo.
Jaime Culebras caught this Manduriacu glass frog hanging out and having a snack in the foothills of the Andes in Ecuador.
This year’s Young Photographer of the Year, Liina Heikkinen, on the other hand, captured an entirely different kind of mood. Heikkinen won the award for her photo of a snarling young red fox as it tries to keep the remains of a barnacle goose for itself. Replace the feathers with toilet paper, and you’ve got a meme for the early days of pandemic shopping.
“A sense of furtive drama and frantic urgency enlivens this image,” Shekar Dattatri, a wildlife filmmaker and another member of the judging panel, said in a statement. “A great natural history moment captured perfectly.”