The whimsical side of wildlife photography
Who hasn’t sat down to watch a nature documentary or thumbed through a wildlife magazine and been stunned by pictures of the sublime beauty and wild animals? Wildlife photography requires (among many other things) a keen eye, talent, and lots of patience. While photographing these amazing creatures in their habitats is serious business, it’s also not lacking in levity. Let’s look through some of the sillier moments captured by wildlife photographers.
Don’t speak to me or my son ever again!
In this photo, one meerkat appears to be shielding another while glaring at an unknown subject. Have you ever wondered why some individual meerkats in a mob (that’s the scientific name to describe a group) often stare so intently? It’s to watch for predators.
This is called sentinel behavior, and it’s fascinated researchers for decades. Meerkats will rotate shifts watching out for the gang, while the other meerkats hunt or play. The squirrel-sized mammals feed on both small game and plants — lizards, bugs, and fruit make up the bulk of their diet. They have to constantly stay on the lookout for jackals and eagles, lest they become meals themselves.
A comfortable spot to perch
A ring-tailed lemur clings to photographer Nick Garbutt in Madagascar, as Nick eyes the primate apprehensively. Ring-tailed lemurs are known for their bug eyes, bushy ears, and the way they scamper across the ground on their hind legs and get into considerable amounts of mischief.
Sadly, these loveable animals are one of the most endangered species in the world, largely due to habitat degradation and loss, as well as poaching. But it’s not all bad news — multiple wildlife conservation organizations are taking successful countermeasures in an effort to replenish lemur populations. Collaborative efforts that involve the preservation of the flora and fauna that makes up the lemur’s habitat, and captive breeding programs have shown the most promise.
Crouching lemur, Hidden dragon
No, this lemur isn’t preparing to fight off swarms of attackers — he’s actually moving quickly across a clearing to get to the food-dense area of the deep forest. Unlike most other primates, the lemur prefers to run on their hind-legs rather than use their front legs for support.
The result is a kind of leap and shuffle that resembles a dance. Their powerful legs thrust them forward at incredible speeds, making them difficult for predators to catch as they move through the forest. Though they’re excellent climbers, lemurs lack the prehensile tails of many other primates, making fast travel on the ground a necessity.
Hey, no smoking!
No, despite what it looks like, this red deer in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany isn’t stepping out for a nicotine fix. He’s actually bellowing at his competition — a fellow stag. If you’ve never heard a stag roar before, it’s quite remarkable to behold. Stags roar to herd their harem of females and to attract the attention of females — who typically swoon over males who roar the loudest and most often.
Red deer are the largest of deer species, with adult males reaching sizes of 4 feet, 7 inches tall and weighing up to 496 pounds. Deer are an important part of the ecosystem because they feed on vegetation and provide food for predators.
Pangolin head wrap
Below, a pangolin clings to Phaliot Nkata, a man who has dedicated his life to protecting these strange creatures. Many people aren’t familiar with these adorably-armored animals but they’re actually the most trafficked mammal species in the world. Sadly, these beautiful animals are hunted for their scales.
Pangolin scales are used in traditional medicines and as a delicacy in certain cultures. The illegal pangolin trade has brought these poor creatures near the brink of extinction. People like Phaliot Nkata are members of a charitable organization that risk their lives to protect pangolins from poachers in Zimbabwe.
Hello, can I ask you about your current cable provider?
Below, a curious polar bear takes a peek into a passenger ship in Norway as some tourists snap a few pictures from the safety of the upper deck. Last year, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) had a laugh at the Australia’s Smartraveller advisory for releasing a guide for avoiding polar bear attacks.
“Thank you #Australia for your concern. We can assure you that in mainland Norway all polar bears are stuffed and poses only limited risk,” the MFA posted to Twitter. Polar bears are considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The main issue threatening the species is the rapid loss of habitat.
Oh, hi! Didn’t see you there!
This adolescent male polar bear enthusiastically greets photographer Steven John Kazlowski after exhausting himself playing with a large stick outside Fairbanks, Alaska. Don’t let his playful demeanor fool you, polar bears are one of the world’s most powerful predators.
Weighing up to 1500 pounds, the polar bear is the largest land carnivore in the world. That said, these impressive beasts spend most of their time at sea. Their enormous size doesn’t hinder their speed — polar bears can run up to 25 miles per hour and swim 6 miles per hour, and their keen sense of smell enables them to sniff out seals up to a mile away.
It’s right behind me, isn’t it?
Photographer David Fleetham snaps a selfie underwater while a great white shark lurks in the background off the coast of Guadalupe Island in Mexico. There are an estimated 170 great whites in the area surrounding the volcanic island. The shark population density combined with crystal clear water makes the island an ideal destination for thrill-seeking tourists.
It’s easy to see why sharks get a bad rap — their powerful jaws, razor sharp teeth, and seemingly supernatural ability to sense prey from miles away make them the most feared sea creatures — but in their defense, shark attacks on humans are extremely rare.
Bear with me
Rove, a four-month-old bear cub unabashedly shows affection to a photographer at the Bear Discovery Center in Cambodia. The center hopes to raise awareness and money for the conservation of bears in Asia. Local bear populations are threatened by poaching and the exotic pet trade.
Asia hosts two species of bear — the Asiatic black bear and Ezo brown bear. Both species are mostly herbivorous, however their strong jaws, sharp teeth, and claws allow them to hunt prey when the mood strikes. Female Ezo bears often bring their cubs near fisherman. While this sounds dangerous, there have been no reported incidents of attack. Researchers assume mothers bring their cubs near humans to deter aggressive males from approaching them.
Why yes, I’d love a mouse. Thanks for asking!
This snowy owl is hardly able to contain its excitement as volunteer Brenna Morris prepares its next meal at the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick, Maine. Snowy owls are the heaviest owls in North America but that doesn’t slow them down — they are fast and ferocious enough to knock over a grown man.
These birds of prey prefer to fly solo, hunting small game with their powerful talons and strong beaks. They hunt squirrels, prairie dogs, mice, and rabbits, but lemmings make their favorite snacks. As you might expect, the snowy owl thrives in frigid climates and is able to survive even when the temperature drops below -50°C.
Surely he won’t mind sparing some fur for my nest…
A crow takes the liberty of taking some fur from this panda’s backside for some home renovation at a zoo in Beijing, China. Giant pandas are mostly vegetarian — shoots and leaves make up 99% of the bear’s diet — however, they’ve been known to feed on rodents and birds on occasion (a risk this crow is willing to take).
While the giant panda has had its populations decimated by habitat loss and fragmentation, recently there’s been lots of good news regarding the species. Despite it being notoriously difficult to get them to mate in captivity, the giant panda population has grown tremendously in recent years, upgrading their IUCN status from endangered to vulnerable. On the other hand, crow populations are thriving, in case you were wondering.
Eeek! A car?
A baby elephant eyes a remote controlled car apprehensively as the camera-fitted vehicle approaches for a closer look in Tanzania. The “BeetleCam” enables wildlife photographer William Burrard-Lucas and his brother Matthew to safely approach wildlife for some breathtaking footage of elephant herds, lion prides, and cape buffalo.
As you can see in the picture above, some animals didn’t quite know what to make of the homemade device. In fact, one lion got sick of being followed by the BeetleCam and destroyed it. Fortunately, the two brothers were able to fix the gadget and capture more footage from Katavi National Park.
Here, a young black-capped capuchin monkey munches on an apple in Manu, Peru. Tufted capuchins are remarkably smart primates, exhibiting a keen ability to make and use tools, both in the wild and in captivity. Most commonly, the monkeys will fashion a hammer or chisel to break through barriers, or use a stick as a kind of spoon.
The tufted capuchin can be found in many different forest types in the upper portion of South America. Capuchins aren’t too picky when it comes to diet — they’ll eat fruit, insects, birds, and maybe even cats. Most notably however, is their fondness for nuts, which they’ll use stones to crack open.
Hyenas get a bad rap — they’re one of the most feared animals in the animal kingdom. There’s many cultural, religious, and mythological reasons for this, but the beasts are naturally shy around humans and attacks on people are extremely rare. Recently however, the hyena has been gaining popularity and interest among humans.
That being said, we wouldn’t recommend giving one belly rubs, no matter how tempting that might be.
Found predominantly in Sub-Saharan Africa, spotted hyenas hunt and travel in large groups called clans, yet their matriarchal social system is more competitive than cooperative. In other words, the strongest and toughest rule their clan.
How’s my hair look?
A Sulawesi black monkey checks himself out in the rearview mirror of a motorcycle in Tangkoko Nature Reserve, Bitung. Apparently, he was unsatisfied with what he saw and tried to block out his reflection. When that didn’t work, the self-conscious monkey and his friends started biting at the bike to the bemusement of its owner.
Sadly, the mischievous Celebes crested macaque is listed as critically endangered after being hunted near extinction for bushmeat. Their tendency to devastate crops also hasn’t made them too many friends among humans, either. Despite their IUCN status, the black ape has been able to thrive in Sulawesi’s neighboring islands, due to a scarce human population.
Can we trouble you for some porridge?
In this photograph from the 1950s, two young black bears approach a tourist’s vehicle in hopes of getting something tasty in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Black bears are anything but picky — they’ll feast on practically anything. For this reason, campers in Yellowstone or other bear-populated areas have to get creative to hide anything edible from the hungry beasts.
If you are ever approached by bears while driving, it’s best to honk your horn and drive away. Interactions between humans and wild bears can be dangerous, so it’s best to discourage the behavior for the safety of both humans and bears alike.
Below, a grey seal pup gets some rest and relaxation in Donna Nook, Lincolnshire, England. The Donna Nook National Nature Reserve is known for their grey seals, who are drawn to the area to breed during the winter. While the seals look cute and cuddly, experts warn against approaching them — the bulls can be protective and aggressive, and even the pups pack quite a bite.
Predictably, the grey seal’s favorite meal is fish, but they’ll eat practically anything they can get their flippers on. After being over-hunted for oil, meat and skins, their population rebounded after several pieces of legislation were passed to protect the species. Now, their status is listed under “least concern” by the IUCN.
Here, a juvenile green turtle munches on a jellyfish in Byron Bay, Australia. In contrast to all other sea turtle species, adult green turtles are herbivorous. However, the youngsters are far less selective. Juvenile green turtles take what they can get — this includes crabs, sponges and jellyfish in addition to the usual diet of algae and sea grasses.
Sadly, green sea turtles also consume plastic bags — likely because they resemble jellyfish. The outlook for a turtle that consumes plastic is bleak. That’s why the World Wildlife Federation recommends recycling and limiting our use of single-use plastics, as well as legislation to prevent the 8 million metric tons of plastic leaking into the ocean each year.
Don’t mind me
This cheetah found an unlikely vantage point beside the intrepid wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucass. Burrard Lucass travels the world to bring us some of the most astounding images of wild animals in their natural habitat. His book, Top Wildlife Sites Of The World, details the incredible amount of work and dedication required to capture these images.
From camping in the freezing Arctic, to getting up close and personal with gorillas and wolves in the Congo and Ethiopia, Burrard-Lucass is no stranger to peril. In the picture above however, that seems to be the furthest thing from his mind.
Monkeying around can be exhausting
The olive or Anubis baboon is one of 138 different species of Old World Monkeys and spans 25 countries in Africa. These smart and sociable primates are well adapted for life in a variety of habitats, from savanna to rainforests. Despite being hunted as pests in certain areas (they’re known to raid crop fields) the olive baboon population currently is in no great danger.
Researchers have been fascinated by these baboons for many years, studying the social dynamics among the individuals in a group. Female baboons often form platonic, symbiotic friendships with a chosen male. The pair will take turns looking after the children, and they’ll sleep, forage, and fight threats together when conflict arises.
Kitty is not pleased
The Pallas’s cat or manul is a wonderfully expressive wildcat found throughout central Asia. As you might have guessed from its facial expression, the manul prefers to be left alone — these felines spend most of the day in quiet solitude in caves and rock crevices until the evening when it’s dinnertime.
The Pallas’s cat’s diet is made up primarily of gerbils, voles, and birds. Manuls aren’t particularly quick, so they must rely on their camouflage to ambush unsuspecting prey. Their population is listed as “near threatened” by the IUCN, largely due to habitat degradation, loss of prey, and being hunted for their coats.
Compliments to the chimp
Kanzi, a bonobo chimpanzee at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa grins in satisfaction as he eats his dinner from a pan. Even more impressive than his friendly smile, is the fact that the 31-year-old chimp cooks his meals himself.
He gathers sticks into bundles and sets them alight with matches or a lighter, and then places a grill on top to cook burgers or marshmallows in his frying pan. Kanzi’s remarkable ability to conquer his fear of fire and harness its power suggests that we have more in common with our fellow primates than we previously thought.
Ready for my close up
This wild river otter climbs out of the River Thet to inspect a camera in Norfolk, England. Eurasian otters are strongly territorial loners, marking their territory along the river to keep members of the same sex from encroaching on their resources.While these otters can swim and hunt in saltwater, they must return to freshwater to clean their fur.
The Eurasian otter is listed as “near threatened” by the IUCN, suffering from a loss of habitat, hunting, and the widespread use of toxic pesticides. The ban of these pesticides and hunting bans has shown promise in replenishing their populations across Europe and Asia.
Juno the beluga whale pops in to greet a young girl and smile for the camera at the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut. Beluga whales (sometimes called white whales) are the smallest of the whale species. Their color and unique head shape makes them easy to recognize.
The social animals typically travel in pods, and communicate to one another through vocalizations. Tragically, beluga whales have been hunted to near extinction — but there’s reason for hope: Belugas are protected species, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is committed to replenishing populations in Cook Inlet.
Sure, you can hitch a ride
Here, a snail climbs atop an unbothered Indonesian White’s Tree Frog’s head, perhaps to get a good look at the surroundings in Sukabumi, Indonesia. Sometimes called the Dumpy Tree Frog or Smiling Tree Frog, these amphibians are native to Australia, Indonesia, and New Guinea, though they’ve recently been introduced to New Zealand.
They’ve earned the name “dumpy” because adults have a tendency to overeat and grow an extra fat layer on the top of their heads. At the moment, the only thing this frog has on his head is an unlikely guest, though this doesn’t seem to annoy our friend too much.
Sharing a banana with mom
Sariska, a gray langur at the Hanover zoo in Germany, shares a snack with her baby. The baby monkey was born in Feb. 2014. Gray langurs are native to the subcontinent of India, and are able to thrive in virtually any setting, from deserts to rainforests. The monkeys are diurnal, typically sleeping through the night in trees or manmade structures — basically anywhere up high.
Baby gray langurs are raised exclusively by their mothers until they reach about two years old, when other female adults step in to start helping out. The species is not currently listed as threatened or vulnerable by the IUCN, however there are laws preventing capturing or hunting them in India. The monkeys are a common sight near many temples where humans like to feed them.
Strike a pose
A wooly spider monkey stands upright and shows off his impressive acrobatic ability atop a tree in the Atlantic Rainforest in Brazil. These monkeys are the largest primate found in the Americas, though they currently only populate southeastern Brazil. Unfortunately, these marvelous New World monkeys are critically endangered.
Conservation efforts for the muriqui are an uphill battle. The monkeys face threats of illegal hunting and rapid habitat loss. Currently, there are believed to be only 1,300 of these primates left in the world — all in isolated groups in the Atlantic Rainforest.
A baby kinkajou at the Eskisehir Zoo in Turkey sticks out its remarkably large tongue at photographer Ali Atmaca. Kinkajous are tropical animals found in South and Central America. Their species is a bit of an outlier — they are arboreal (tree-dwellers), with prehensile tails, but are more closely related to a raccoon than any primates.
Despite their sharp teeth and classification as carnivora, kinkajous seem to prefer eating fruit above all else though they occasionally snack on insects and ants. Humans have been known to keep kinkajous as exotic pets, but if you’re considering it, beware: they have a nasty bite.
Wait, what time is it?
This sleepy polar bear in Alaska looks ready to hit the snooze button. Did you know that unlike many other bear species, polar bears don’t have the need to hibernate? Scientists now believe that polar bears have a unique skill in regards to nitric oxide production. Where cells in most mammals transform nutrients into energy, polar bears appears to be able to transform nutrients into heat.
While polar bears are known for their snow white fur, which enables them to blend in with their snowy surroundings, underneath they have black skin, which also helps them stay warm by soaking up the sun’s rays.
An age-old riddle is solved
A local resident of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Ertingen, Germany created a humorous chicken crosswalk, complete with signs and stripes. Chickens are a common sight in the town, which neighbors a farm. So why’d the chicken cross the road?
The fowl cross the street to drink from a water fountain located opposite of the farm. Perhaps it’s not the most exciting answer, but hey, even hens need to stay hydrated.