Wildlife Prize Winning Photo is a Fake


Photograph: José Luis Rodriguez via The Guardian

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Here's the award winning photo from the Natural History Museum's Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Now what is fake about it?

It turns out that the wolf is! Instead of being snapped spontaneously in nature, the wolf is a model, being used in a staged photo. In a mini-scandal, the photographer is being stripped of his award because the animal is a tamed iberian wolf, rarely seen in the wild.The Natural History Museum's annual contest is a prestigious showcase for natural photography, with 43,000 entrants this year and a prize of £10,000. The rules stipulate that photographs of animal models may not be entered into the competition.

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The photographer, Jose Luis Rodriguez, denies that his wolf photo is staged but could not offer adequate or substantive answers to the Museum's questioning. He called his photo The Storybook Wolf, but newspapers have dubbed it "the loan wolf." Rumours have been circulating for a while about this. In December, he claimed that he was the victim of a "malicious internet campaign".


Three Wolves Jumping via Someone Awesome.

When the photo was initially chosen as the Wildlife Photo of the Year, it drew significant attention from social media users on blogs, Digg, Buzzfeed and other sites, including a spoof image that played off the other, even more popular wolf-based internet meme: the Three Wolf Moon T-Shirt. This attention was not because people immediately suspected the photograph to be a fake, but rather because the photo is undeniably awesome and was released around the same time the Three Wolf Moon shirt was still a popular internet meme.

Perhaps that attention is what has led Rodriquez to think there is an internet campaign against him, although it's hard to argue that the internet buzz his photo generated surely led to his photo and name being widely circulated.

Regardless of what led people to question his photo's authenticity, experts wondered about the photo's veracity because of the difficulty of photographing a wild wolf. Rivals, or sore losers, raised questions and identified the wolf as one at a wildlife park in Spain, Canada Real.

The judges ruled: "It was likely that the wolf featured in the image was an animal model that can be hired for photographic purposes and, as a result, that the image had been entered in breach of Rule 10 of the Competition. The judging panel looked at a range of evidence and took specialist advice from panel judges who have extensive experience of photographing wildlife including wolves. They also considered the responses to specific questions put to the photographer Jose Luis Rodriguez."

The photo has now been removed from the exhibition, although he does have the last laugh, since it is still in the photography book printed for the annual award.

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Tags: Animals | Artists | Awards

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