The people have spoken. A record 60,466 wildlife photography fans voted in this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice competition, awarding German photographer Sascha Fonseca’s photo of a snow leopard at sunset in the mountains of northern India the top spot.
“Photography can connect people to wildlife and encourage them to appreciate the beauty of the unseen natural world. I believe that a greater understanding of wildlife leads to deeper caring which hopefully results in active support and greater public interest for conservation,” Fonseca said in a statement after winning the award.
In 2018, Fonseca started his snow leopard project, where he left bait-free camera traps in the Indian Himalayas, attempting to capture a photo of a snow leopard, otherwise known as the “ghost of the mountains,” due to the animal’s ability to camouflage, its scarce numbers, and the rugged environment.
“This was the picture I had in my dreams,” he wrote on Instagram. “People said it’s impossible. Too cold, the equipment won’t work. Three years later I have captured some of the best high-resolution photos of snow leopards in the wild. Faith, persistence, and hard work have paid off.”
According to London’s Natural History Museum, which develops and produces the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards, it’s estimated that there are only 6,500 adult snow leopards left living in the wild. The big cats face daily threats from poaching, habitat loss, and human-animal conflict.
Fans selected Fonseca’s “World of the Snow Leopard” photo from 25 shortlisted images narrowed down by the Natural History Museum from 39,000 entries.
The four runners-up included Spanish photographer Igor Altuna’s “Holding On,” a photo of a leopard carrying a dead monkey and its baby; Canadian photographer Brittany Crossman’s “Fox Affection,” a photo of two red foxes nuzzling; Canadian photographer Martin Gregus’ “Among the Flowers,” a photo of a polar bear cub playing among a field of flowers near Hudson Bay; and Spanish photographer Marina Cano’s “Portrait of Olobor,” an image of a male lion looking directly at the camera.
“This year’s record number of votes illustrates how wildlife photography can engage and inspire audiences with the wonder of nature. A result of dedication and perseverance, Sascha’s remarkable image captures the breathtaking beauty of our planet and reminds us of our shared responsibility to protect it,” said Douglas Gurr, director of the Natural History Museum, in a statement.
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year award is entering its 59th competition. A panel of experts are currently judging the next batch of entries with the winner expected to be announced in October 2023.