The BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition Took Place For The 9th Time And Here Are 49 Winning Images And Finalists

It’s the ninth year that the California Academy of Sciences has held the BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition – one of the top wildlife and conservation contests in the world. Like previous years, the winners and finalists of the 2022 awards demonstrated extraordinary talent and mastery in capturing the rich diversity of life on Earth.

Judged by nature and conservation photography experts, the competition’s winners and finalists celebrate Earth’s biodiversity and illustrate the many threats that our planet faces. Scroll down and see the inspiring images below for yourself!

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#1 Aquatic Life Finalist – “Danger In The Mud” By Jens Cullman

Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe.

“Though the Mana Pools National Park has been beset by an ongoing drought, this photographer managed to discover a captivating crocodile lying in wait in a nearly dried-out pool. These muddy pools are often the site of wildlife rescues, including two baby elephants in February of 2022.”

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These images originally appeared in bioGraphic, an independent magazine about nature and conservation powered by the California Academy of Sciences, and media partner of the BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition

Check out previous articles on Bored Panda showcasing the winners and finalists from years 2021 and 2020

#2 Grand Prize – “Bee Balling” By Karine Aigner

Texas, United States.

“A rare moment captured up close: Diadasia rinconis (Cactus Bees) swarming together in a mating ball, each male eager to become companions with a female. Native to America, these bees are considered a solitary species, meaning they live without the hierarchy and structure of their European counterparts—though they still work to pollinate cacti and help plants in the American southwest thrive.”

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#3 Human And Nature Finalist – “Fox City” By Peter Mather

Whitehorse, Canada.

“After working with them for months, this photographer got to know the behavior of the local red foxes well enough to anticipate this one’s arrival at a favorite outcrop overlooking the city.”

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The BigPicture Photography Competition 2022 has announced 49 winning images and finalists in the categories “Aquatic Life”, “Terrestrial Wildlife”, “Winged Life”, “Landscapes, Waterscapes, and Flora”, “Art of Nature”, “Human and Nature” “Photo Story: Taking Action”. As described by the bioGraphic “each photo, in its own way, inspires viewers to protect and conserve the remarkable diversity of life on Earth.”

#4 Terrestrial Wildlife Finalist – “The Stoat’s Game” By Jose Grandio

The French Alps.

“Its formerly brown coat now completely white thanks to the cold climate, a stoat makes an unusual appearance from its underground burrow to give our photographer a glimpse during an unexpected wintry jump. Could it be joy?”

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#5 Terrestrial Wildlife Winner – “Spider Web” By Bence Mate

Kiskunsag National Park, Hungary.

“Once nearing extinction, the European Beaver population now flourishes under new protections, allowing for renewed photography opportunities. However, this beaver’s presence is not the only moment that makes this shot special—a spider in its web clings to the nearly-gnawed-through tree, making for a spectacular, if short-lived, scene.”

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The winner of the Grand Prize is Karine Aigner with her photograph “Bee Balling”. She is an award-winning photojournalist from Washington, the United States raised in Saudi Arabia. As mentioned on the BigPicture website, “Karine has traveled extensively to places like Taiwan, Africa, and the Galapagos in the pursuit of photography. Amidst her travels, she served as the Senior Picture Editor for National Geographic for nine years. Now, Karine’s an associate fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers and a member of Girls Who Click.”

#6 Aquatic Life Finalist – “Goliath In Lilliput” By Tom Shlesinger

Palm Beach, United States.

“While capturing this image, the photographer was reminded of a moment in Gulliver’s Travels: When Gulliver arrives at Lilliput and sees how he towers above the inhabitants, he walks carefully so as not to hurt them. However, it is unlikely that this Goliath Grouper—typically the predator in any scenario—will tread lightly.”

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#7 Terrestrial Wildlife Finalist – “Ghost Of The Mountains” By Sandesh Kadur

Ladakh, India.

“Snow leopards are masters of disguise, able to camouflage quickly in their harsh, mountainous habitats. Before technological advancements in trap photography, one could only catch a fleeting glimpse—thus earning them the nickname ‘ghost of the mountains’.”

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The Winner in the category “Aquatic Life” is David Slater with his photograph “Sea Lion Fall”. Bence Mate’s “Spider Web” received 1st place in the category “Terrestrial Wildlife”. Winners of the categories “Winged Life”, “Landscapes, Waterscapes, and Flora”, “Art of Nature”, “Human and Nature” and “Photo Story: Taking Action” go as follows: Sitaram Raul, Tom St. George, Pål Hermansen, Bence Mate and Nayan Khanolkar.

#8 Terrestrial Wildlife Finalist – “Prey” By Takuya Ishiguro

Osaki-shi Miyagi-ken, Japan.

“Normally found in humid grasslands, this Chinese mantid (Tenodera aridifolia) makes an unexpected roadside appearance while devouring its mate—a not uncommon act sometimes, but not always, reserved for when prey is scarce and the female is very hungry.”

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#9 Aquatic Life Finalist – “Shooting Star” By Tony Wu

Kagoshima, Japan.

“An illuminating look at how sea stars reproduce—and it’s not by conjuring lightning! Sea stars spawn; releasing eggs and sperm simultaneously from their arms into the water, where fertilization occurs.”

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#10 Art Of Nature Finalist – “Hero” By Juan Jesús González Ahumada

Sierra Blanca Natural Park, Spain.

“Agave leaves tend to become extremely heavy, sometimes even bending and producing a ‘wound’ that creates unusual textures when it dries. This photographer noticed this particular agave leaf and saw a superhero in the making, taking advantage of the curvature of the leaf, and lighting the scene with his flashlight to produce a single, watchful eye.”

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#11 Winged Life Finalist – “Beautiful Wings” By Takuya Ishiguro

Osaki-shi Miyagi-ken, Japan.

“Taken while the dragonfly rested in a swamp, this photographer’s close-up allows its magnificent wingspan to truly shine. Dragonflies in cooler climates tend to have more color in their wings than their warmer temperature counterparts, which makes a rainbow-winged dragonfly in the historically hot and humid July weather in Japan so dramatic.”

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#12 Winged Life Finalist – “A Feathered Home” By Pallavi Laveti

Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India.

“In early November, this photographer went through a challenging process—from a distance, and on a moving boat— to capture images of these prehistoric-looking spot-billed pelican chicks. Her efforts paid off, as she’d hoped to produce a photo that evokes emotions of nurturing and safety.”

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#13 Human And Nature Finalist – “Dancing Bears” By David Hup

Comanesti, Romania.

“Home to 60% of Europe’s brown bears, Romania has a complicated relationship with these animals given their increasing presence in human environs. Between Christmas and New Year’s, several communities across Romania don ensembles made from these bears for a ritual aptly called the Dance of the Bears—a dance performed in hopes of chasing away evil spirits and welcoming in the new year.”

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#14 Art Of Nature Finalist – “The Last Frontier” By Florian Ledoux

Svalbard, Norway.

“The dichotomy of sea ice scene, taken from above. On the right side is fast ice, where both man and polar bear can roam, to the left, a beautiful, yet precarious pattern of refreezing ice and drift.”

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#15 Landscapes, Waterscapes, And Flora Finalist – “Ice Cream Cake” By Bart Heirweg

Disko Bay, Ilulissat, Greenland.

“A fluffy iceberg set against a gorgeous purple sky, illuminated by a red-hued moon. The photographer hoped to show the soft (serve) side to icebergs, which are often presented as imposing, even threatening subjects. Nature has never looked more delicious!”

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#16 Aquatic Life Winner – “Sea Lion Fall” By David Slater

Monterey Bay, United States.

“Batstars encompass a lifeless sea lion at the bottom of Monterey Bay. While this scene appears melancholic, rest assured the sea lion is giving back to the community with which it once swam. When the batstars have had their fill, any number of creatures big and small will be able to derive energy and shelter from what’s left behind for years to come.”

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#17 Landscapes, Waterscapes, And Flora Finalist – “City Of Angels” By Silvano Paiola

Pecinci, Obedska Bara, Serbia.

“Spindly, spectral arms reach out as a drone flies overhead—is this a snow-coated black poplar forest or a ghostly retreat?”

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#18 Landscapes, Waterscapes, And Flora Finalist – “The Forest Nymphs” By Juan Jesús González Ahumada

Sierra Blanca Natural park, Ojén, Málaga, Andalucía, Spain.

“These mystical-looking mushrooms (mycelia seynii quél) grow almost exclusively on fallen pine cones. Set against the magical atmosphere of an autumn afternoon, the photographer felt the image evoked visions of fairies.”

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#19 Terrestrial Wildlife Finalist – “Road To Nowhere” By James Gifford

Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, Botswana.

“Historically, Botswana’s huge expanse of Makgadikgadi Salt Pans sees very little wildlife outside of the rainy season. In 2021, a combination of unusually heavy early rain and an increase in artificial waterholes enticed these wildebeests to embark on their annual migration much earlier than normal. Between the vastness of the salt pans and the network of gamepaths, this herd only appears to be on a road to nowhere. “

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#20 Winged Life Winner – “Frame Within A Frame” By Sitaram Raul

Badlapur, India.

“A fruit bat majestically makes its way to a custard apple tree for a feast, finding itself perfectly placed within the canopy opening. It’s no coincidence that the framing is so precise; the photographer spent nearly three weeks observing these bats’ behavior as they frequented the fruit tree, learning their habits and finally capturing this photo when the moment presented itself.”

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#21 Human And Nature Finalist – “Blue Steel” By Matt Theophile

Australian National Botanical Gardens, Australia.

“A male Bowerbird strikes a pose for a female in the background, surrounded by bright blue bottle caps. It’s all part of an elaborate mating ritual wherein these birds build bowers: two-structure columns made out of sticks and colorful objects. The males then take one or two of the objects in their mouth while dramatically displaying their feathers to the female.”

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#22 Terrestrial Wildlife Finalist – “Between Fennels” By ‍ruben Perez Novo

Ares (La Coruña,) Spain.

“When this caterpillar goes through metamorphosis, it will emerge as the gorgeous Papilio Machaon—named for a Greecian mythological figure from the Trojan War. For now, it will crawl among the fennels, occasionally munching on them for lunch.”

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#23 Photo Story: Taking Action Winner – “Coexistence With Predators 1/6” By Nayan Khanolkar

Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai, India.

“A sobering look at the thin “divide” between the jungle and Mumbai, showing clearly how the leopards who roam the city can easily access it.”

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#24 Art Of Nature Finalist – “Crossing Paths” By Julie Kenny

Scaddan, Goldfields-Esperance Region, Australia.

“Emu footprints taken from a drone above an Australian salt lake create a dramatic contrast of pattern and texture. While technology-enabled the photographer to capture such an image, she acknowledges that this perspective has been documented by Aboriginal people for thousands of years.”

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#25 Human And Nature Finalist – “Cumbre Vieja Volcano” By Arturo Rodríguez

Canary Islands, Spain.

“After chasing the opportunity for nearly two weeks, this photographer was able to accompany intrepid volcanologist Raul Pérez to collect liquid lava samples and measure temperature close to the volcano vent. Though its destruction potential is debated, the Cumbre Vieja Volcano is hypothesized to have the potential to create a megatsunami that could reach as far as North America, making any further discoveries about its volatility extremely important.”

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#26 Landscapes, Waterscapes, And Flora Winner – “The Hidden Beauty Beneath Our Feet” By Tom St. George

Muyil, Quintana Roo, Mexico.

“In taking this photograph, the photographer wished to highlight the incredible natural beauty found in the underwater cave systems of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, but also to draw attention to threats to its fragile ecosystem. Even though these caves are an important part of the aquifer, they are under increasing tourism pressures leading to the over-development of the region. A large-scale rail link across the whole of the Yucatan Peninsula is currently in the process of being built, putting both jungle and cave in danger—as well as potentially displacing local Mayan communities. “

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#27 Landscapes, Waterscapes, And Flora Finalist – “Behind The Veil” By Nell Dickerson

Sossusvlei Desert, Skeleton Coast, Namibia.

“A photographer captures a stunning, seemingly interplanetary sunset scene during her first aerial photoshoot in the Sossusvlei Desert. Roughly translated to ‘dead-end marsh’, this desert serves as the southern end of the Namib, the oldest desert in the world. Due to COVID lockdowns in Africa, the photographer was alone for four weeks and felt she had the entire, expansive desert to herself, creating an image that reflects the magnitude of her solitude.”

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#28 Human And Nature Finalist – “Greenwashing” By Marcus Westberg

Dalarna, Sweden.

“A lone bird house tops one of the spared Scots pine trees in the vast, deforested expanse of Sweden. The photographer wanted to demonstrate what seemingly ‘conservationist’ tree-cutting actually looks like: leaving a few trees avoids the ‘clear-cut” label, and similar scenes include trees adorned with ribbons reading ‘consideration’ or ‘nature conservation’.”

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#29 Landscapes, Waterscapes, And Flora Finalist – “Oasis” By Nicolas Raspiengeas

Pelkosenniemi, Finland.

“Tucked in the Arctic north of the Finnish Lapland, boreal forests such as these have often been subjects of photography. Hoping to bring a broader vision to a familiar space, this photographer set out to forefront the connection between the forest and nearby wetlands.”

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#30 Aquatic Life Finalist – “Curious Co-Parenting” By Domenico Roscigno

Taranto, Italy.

“A male Goby Fish protects the female’s eggs laid inside a shell alongside a pregnant Long-Snouted Seahorse. It remains unknown whether they are working together to protect their potential offspring.”

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#31 Aquatic Life Finalist – “Weedy Scorpionfish” By Magnus Lundgren

LongDong, Taiwan.

“Nocturnal hunting sensibilities and the ability to camouflage make sightings of the brilliantly colorful Weedy Scorpionfish ironically rare. This stealthy species attracts prey by blending in with their surroundings all while remaining completely still. You might say this makes them the perfect photography subject—but only if you can find them!”

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#32 Terrestrial Wildlife Finalist – “Embryology” By Jaime Culebras

Yanayacu Biological Station, Napo Province, Ecuador.

“A gelatinous mass of developing glass frog embryos hangs from a leaf over a stream. Unfortunately, not much is known about nymphargus wiley; in fact, this species is listed as data deficient on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.”

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#33 Winged Life Finalist – “Hey, Good Lookin'” By Benjamin Olson

Baudette, Minnesota, United States.

“Perched on a log used to attract mates, this ruffed grouse is displaying for a female just out of frame. The photographer notes that normally the male would be drumming (beating his wings on his chest), but due to the camera trap delay, he instead captured a fanning display—something he’d never seen on a drumming log before.”

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#34 Art Of Nature Finalist – “Abstract Painting” By Sergio Tapia

Huelva, Spain.

“What might appear to be a de Kooning painting is actually a collection of common algae painstakingly captured in a Spanish reservoir. After a three-day wait for the water levels to drop and make the green algae visible, the photographer was rewarded with this dramatic image.”

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#35 Photo Story: Taking Action Winner – “Coexistence With Predators 4/6” By Nayan Khanolkar

Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai, India.

“A wide-eyed leopard is collared, a joint effort conducted by Wildlife Conservation Society, the Maharashtra Forest Department, and Wildlife Institute of India. This tracking project helps these organizations better understand the big cat’s behavior and movements, as well as their adaptations to the urban landscape.”

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#36 Human And Nature Winner – “Sickening Delicacy” By Bence Mate

Covasna, Romania.

“While traveling in Romania’s Carpathian region, this photographer happened upon frogs being hunted at spawning time. After their legs are removed for consumption, the frogs’ remains are thrown back into the water— a horrific swirl of spawn and viscera, expertly composed into a heart-breakingly tragic scene.”

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#37 Human And Nature Finalist – “Face To Face” By Fernando Constantino Martínez Belmar

Río Secreto Nature Reserve, Mexico.

“One of the most emblematic species in Mexico, this endangered jaguar comes face to face with a potential meal. Likely in such a location due to deforestation and habitat destruction, Mexican wildlife has gotten closer to human settlements—a fact which usually spells disaster for these creatures.”

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#38 Art Of Nature Winner – “Insect Diversity” By Pål Hermansen

Ski, Norway.

“A tragically beautiful tapestry of insects— inadvertently killed after being drawn to an outdoor lamp with an unintentional opening. While cleaning the light, the photographer discovered a veritable treasure trove of dead insects and decided to create this collage demonstrating the expansive, if overlooked, diversity of small, winged insects.”

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#39 Art Of Nature Finalist – “Life Vessels” By Armand Sarlangue

Highlands, Iceland.

“While on location to shoot the Fagradalsjfall volcano, the photographer was determined to take an aerial photo of the Icelandic Highlands. During the last few days of his trip, he was finally able to secure a pilot and captured these brilliant green lines of vegetation sprouting through the black volcanic ground.”

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#40 Art Of Nature Finalist – “Gold From The Bay” By Steve Mandel

San Francisco, United States.

“Should you find these under your microscope, you’ve discovered something as valuable as gold– these diatoms absorb CO2 and help produce 20-30% of Earth’s oxygen. Collected from the San Francisco Bay, the photographer notes that these diatom’s colors are the result of the light being routed around the sides of the slide in the microscope, then refracted by the structure of the diatom wall.”

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#41 Winged Life Finalist – “Young Hunters” By Piotr Naskrecki

Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique.

“Managing to catch some young saddle-billed storks during an early morning hunt, this photographer found they were a little shy, and thus difficult to photograph. Still, in the early stages of learning to feed themselves, he noticed that as one young stork successfully caught a fish, it would be immediately mobbed by other young storks.”

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#42 Aquatic Life Finalist – “Underwater Colorful Snowstorm” By Tom Shlesinger

Eilat, Israel.

“Catching a coral spawning is tricky business! Occurring only once a year and determined by the lunar cycle, this spectacular event can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks depending on the coral’s species and location. This photographer spent years attempting to get the timing just right during free-diving efforts, finally snapping an image of this magical underwater snowstorm— during a June dive.”

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#43 Winged Life Finalist – “The Forest Elf” By Mario Cea Sánchez

Salamanca, Spain.

“Though a common species in Spain, the Eurasian nuthatch or wood nuthatch (Sitta europaea) is agile and hard to photograph as it spends most of its life in the trees—thus earning the title ‘the forest elf’.”

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#44 Landscapes, Waterscapes, And Flora Finalist – “Beauty Is Ephemeral ” By Ellen Woods

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, United States.

“Tucked under umbrella-like leaves, mayapple flowers typically remain hidden from the view of human onlookers. Because they often escape the attention of pollinators too, mayapples rely on a different strategy: having attractive friends. Mayapple plants neighboring nectar-producing species bear more fruit and seed than those further away, indicating that infrequent, incidental visits by nectar-searching pollinators are integral to mayapple’s reproductive success. After pollination, mayapple plants go on to produce their namesake: a small green fruit.”

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#45 Photo Story: Taking Action Winner – “Coexistence With Predators 6/6” By Nayan Khanolkar

Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai, India.

“A wildlife researcher from the Wildlife Conservation Society and a staff member of the Maharashtra Forest Department with one of the tools used to track a collared leopard..”

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#46 Photo Story: Taking Action Winner – “Coexistence With Predators 5/6” By Nayan Khanolkar

Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai, India.

“Dinesh Barap, a Warli artist from Mumbai, stands proudly in front of an artwork of the Waghoba, a half leopard, half-tiger deity worshiped by the Warlis—and believed to protect them from the downsides of sharing space with big cats. This indigenous community has lived side-by-side with leopards and other cats for centuries, and the photographer believes much can be learned from them about coexisting with these creatures.”

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#47 Photo Story: Taking Action Winner – “Coexistence With Predators 3/6” By Nayan Khanolkar

Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai, India.

“In 2004 there were numerous attacks on humans by leopards in Mumbai, forcing the need for their capture and rehoming in the National Park. Of these leopards was the pictured Radhika, though it is unknown if she was among the leopards who attacked people.”

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#48 Photo Story: Taking Action Winner – “Coexistence With Predators 2/6” By Nayan Khanolkar

Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai, India.

“This leopard is making a midnight move, the lights of Mumbai creeping close behind it.”

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#49 Winged Life Finalist – “Table Manners” By Bence Mate

Pusztaszer, Hungary.

“After hours of observing spot-billed pelicans diving in for a bite, this photographer determined the best possible shooting angle. The resulting photograph captures a very unconventional silhouette of a spot-billed pelican dropping in for lunch.”

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