Photography

True or False: Was Award-Winning Photo a Fake?

A prize-winning picture has been removed from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition and tour after a team of experts ruled the animal to be stuffed.Wednesday, 9 May 2018

By Jonathan Manning
Under a starry sky at the start of the rainy season, this termite mound on the vast treeless savannah of Emas National Park sparkled with intense green lights. This happens when winged termites take to the sky to mate. Click beetle larvae living in the outer layers of the termite mounds poke out and flash their bioluminescent ‘headlights’ to lure in prey – the flying termites. Photographer Marcio Cabral had set out to capture the spectacle, but didn’t anticipate seeing a giant anteater, too, which began to attack the tall, concrete-mud mound with its powerful claws.

A winning image in the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition has been disqualified after judges ruled that the photograph is of a stuffed animal.

Called ‘The night raider’, the arresting photo featured an anteater raiding a termite mound. The vivid green lights are click beetle larvae, which live in the outer layers of the termite mound and flash their bioluminescent ‘headlights’ to lure in their prey – flying termites.

However, the Natural History Museum in London, which owns the photographic competition, said it had received evidence that the anteater is a ‘taxidermy specimen’.

A team of five scientists, including mammals experts and a taxidermy specialist, compared the anteater in the award-winning image to an anteater on display at a visitor centre located at the Portão do Bandeira gate, one of the entrances of the Emas National Park – where 'The night raider' was taken.

They all reached the same conclusion; namely that there are elements in the overall posture, morphology, the position of raised tufts of fur and in the patterning on the neck and the top of the anteater’s head that are too similar for the images to depict two different animals.

The photographer, Marcio Cabral, who took the picture strongly denies that the anteater is a stuffed animal, but could not provide any supporting images – the files taken before and after the winning shot did not include the anteater.

‘The night raider’ won the Animals in Their Environment category at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards, 2017, but will now be removed from the competition's exhibition and tour.

“The competition rules clearly state that photographs achieved through unethical practices will be disqualified. Any transgression of the competition rules is taken very seriously,” said a statement from the Natural History Museum.

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