Moments of Zen and More Striking Images Win Nature Photo Awards

Highlights include fireflies, butterflies, and birds.

Western lowland gorilla in cloud of butterflies

Anup Shah / The Nature Conservancy

It's either a moment of happiness or mere calm resignation as a western lowland gorilla steps through a swarm of butterflies at the Dzanga Sangha Special Dense Forest Reserve in the Central African Republic.

The moment, captured by photographer Anup Shah of the United Kingdom, won the grand prize in The Nature Conservancy's 2021 Global Photo Contest. It features female gorilla Malui walking through a cloud of butterflies she has disturbed in a bai [natural forest clearing]. 

The photo was chosen from 100,190 submissions from 158 countries. The conservancy has run a U.S. photo contest for more than a decade. The global competition began in 2017 but took a year's hiatus last year due to the pandemic.

“When you look through a batch of images the best ones always rise to the top. This was the case for our contest entries. The problem was, however, that myself and the other judges saw an incredible number of images get to that level!" contest judge Alex Snyder tells Treehugger.

"We had to make some hard decisions and compromises amongst ourselves, but when we finished, we had group of winners that I feel encompasses the global talent that our contest represents. These images allowed us to travel the world and gain a greater of perspective of our planet. The pandemic has weighed heavy on all of us but seeing a photo like Anup Shah’s Grand Prize-winning image of Malui the gorilla inspires calmness and gives us peace. It’s a timeless photograph that we won’t soon forget—what a wonderful gift!” 

Here's a look at some of the other winners and what the photographers had to say about their work.

People's Choice Winner

fireflies on tree

Prathamesh Ghadekar / The Nature Conservancy

Prathamesh Ghadekar, India

Just before Monsoon, these fireflies congregate in certain regions of India and on a few special trees like this one, they are in crazy quantity which can range in millions. This particular image is a stack of 32 images (30 seconds exposure each) of this tree taken on a tripod. Later the images were stacked in Adobe Photoshop. This image contains 16 minutes of viewing time of this amazing tree.

Landscape, First Place

alligator carcass on dry soil

Daniel De Granville Manço / The Nature Conservancy

Daniel De Granville Manço, Brazil

Carcass of a Pantanal alligator (Caiman yacare) in the dry soil on the banks of the Transpantaneira highway, municipality of Poconé (Mato Grosso). Photo taken with a drone on October 4, 2020, at the height of the droughts that hit the Pantanal that year.

Landscape, Second Place

white cloud cover over land

Denis Ferreira Netto / The Nature Conservancy

Denis Ferreira Netto, Brazil

In a helicopter flight through the sea mountain range, I came across this white cloud cover, which resulted in this magnificent image that resembles the head of a dinosaur.

People and Nature, First Place

baby orangutan rehab

Alain Schroeder / The Nature Conservancy

Alain Schroeder, Belgium

This picture documents the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of Indonesian orangutan. They are under threat from the ongoing depletion of the rainforest due to palm oil plantations, logging, mining, hunting. The whole [Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme] team works together to prepare Brenda, an estimated 3-month-old female orangutan (she has no teeth yet), for surgery.

People and Nature, Second Place

guide in a sandstorm

Tom Overall / The Nature Conservancy

Tom Overall, Australia

A guide in the Sahara Desert enduring a sand storm.

Water, First Place

water and person walking

Kazi Arifujjaman / The Nature Conservancy

Kazi Arifujjaman, Bangladesh

Water and people.

Water, Second Place

people enjoying the water in the Cenotes

Joram Mennes / The Nature Conservancy

Joram Mennes, Mexico

Three levels of leisure: swimmers, freedivers and divers enjoy their respective sport/recreational activities in a Fresh Water mass know locally as the Cenotes.

Wildlife, First Place

cheetahs swimming

Buddhilini de Soyza / The Nature Conservancy

Buddhilini de Soyza, Australia

Incessant rains in Masai Mara had caused the Talek river to flood. This unusual coalition of five male cheetahs (Tano Bora – Fast Five), were looking to cross this river in terrifyingly powerful currents. It seemed a task doomed to failure and we were delighted when they made it to the other side. This was a timely reminder of the damage wreaked by human induced climate change.

Wildlife, Second Place

birds in winter sunflowers

Mateusz Piesiak / The Nature Conservancy

Mateusz Piesiak, Poland

This year due to a high water level a giant field of sunflowers could not been mown. In winter it attracted thousands of different species of birds, mostly greenfinches, goldfinches and bramblings.