Dramatic Bushfire Image Wins Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award

The People's Choice winner shows devastation caused by the fires.


Robert Irwin / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

A dramatic photo of the devastation caused by a bushfire in Northern Australia is the winner of this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award. The image was taken by Robert Irwin, son of wildlife conservationist Steve Irwin.

Entitled "Bushfire," the photo was chosen by the 55,486 wildlife photography fans from around the world who voted in the competition.

Spotting smoke on the horizon, Irwin launched his drone right over the location of the fire. With just a few minutes of battery time left, he sent it right into the thick of the smoke. The resulting image shows pristine, natural conservation area on one side and on the other, areas blackened and devastated by the wildfires. The image was taken near the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve in Cape York, Queensland, which is home to more than 30 ecosystems and many endangered species.

"For me, nature photography is about telling a story to make a difference for the environment and our planet," Irwin says. "I feel it is particularly special for this image to be awarded, not only as a profound personal honour but also as a reminder of our effect on the natural world and our responsibility to care for it."

Doug Gurr, the director of the Natural History Museum, says: ‘Robert's image is both stirring and symbolic. Last year the world stood aghast at the devastating wildfires that struck much of Australia, and this photograph depicts just one example of a staggering biodiversity loss caused by the detrimental impacts of climate change, habitat loss and pollution."

He added, "But it is by no means too late for us to act. I hope those who see this image are enthused to learn more about the problems our natural world faces but also to take action in their daily lives – be it changing dietary or travel habits or even joining a local wildlife volunteering group."

Now in its 56th year, Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London. This year's competition attracted more than 50,000 entries from professionals and amateurs around the world.  

Irwin's photo was chosen from a shortlist of 25 images. His and four others became fan favorites. They will be displayed in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum, London when the museum reopens.

These are the four Highly Commended images that were also voter favorites with descriptions from the museum directors.

"The Last Goodbye" by Ami Vitale, U.S.

The Last Goodbye
"The Last Goodbye".

Ami Vitale / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Joseph Wachira comforts Sudan, the last male northern white rhino left on the planet, moments before he passed away at Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya. Suffering from age-related complications, he died surrounded by the people who had cared for him. With every extinction we suffer more than loss of ecosystem health. When we see ourselves as part of nature, we understand that saving nature is really about saving ourselves. Ami's hope is that Sudan’s legacy will serve as a catalyst to awaken humanity to this reality.

"Hare Ball" by Andy Parkinson, U.K.

Hare Ball
"Hare Ball".

Andy Parkinson / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Andy spent five weeks watching the mountain hares near Tomatin in the Scottish Highlands, waiting patiently for any movement – a stretch, a yawn or a shake – which typically came every 30 to 45 minutes. As he watched, frozen and prostrate, with 50 to 60 mph winds surging relentlessly around him, the cold started to distract and his fingers clasping the icy metal camera body and lens began to burn. Then relief came as this little female moved her body into a perfect spherical shape. A movement of sheer joy. Andy craves such moments: the isolation, the physical challenge and, most importantly, time with nature.

"Close encounter" by Guillermo Esteves, U.S.

"Close encounter"
"Close encounter".

Guillermo Esteves / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The worried looking expression on this dog’s face speaks volumes and is a reminder that moose are large, unpredictable, wild animals. Guillermo was photographing moose on the side of the road at Antelope Flats in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA, when this large bull took an interest in the furry visitor – the driver of the car unable to move it before the moose made its approach. Luckily, the moose lost interest and went on its way after a few moments.

Drey dreaming by Neil Anderson, U.K.

"Drey dreaming"
"Drey dreaming".

Neil Anderson / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

As the weather grew colder, two Eurasian red squirrels (only one is clearly visible) found comfort and warmth in a box Neil had put up in one of the pine trees near his home in the Scottish Highlands. In the colder months, it’s common for the squirrels, even when unrelated, to share dreys. After discovering the box full of nesting material and in frequent use, Neil installed a camera and LED light with a diffuser on a dimmer. The box had a lot of natural light so he slowly increased the light to highlight his subjects – and using the WiFi app on his phone he was able take stills from the ground.