The creatures face each other — suspended in what Roz Kidman Cox, chair of the judging panel for Wildlife Photographer of the Year, called an “extraordinary” natural moment.
“Photographically, it is quite simply the perfect moment,” said Cox, who awarded Bao first place in the photography contest, which is sponsored by London’s Natural History Museum. “The expressive intensity of the postures holds you transfixed, and the thread of energy between the raised paws seems to hold the protagonists in perfect balance.”
Bao told BBC he waited for hours in an alpine meadow of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, an expanse of elevated land in central and east Asia, to capture the hunt.
The fox lay in the grass, waiting for passing prey. The young marmot walked into her trap.
The pictures that followed Bao’s award-winning moment are gruesome, Bao told BBC. He summarized the end result simply.
“That’s nature,” he said.
Bao was born and raised in the area where he captured the photo, according to the museum. He developed a fascination with local wildlife and now serves as director and chief ecological photographer of the Qilian Mountain Nature Conservation Association of China.
“During years of photography, I have come to realize that there is a long way to go in terms of environmental conservation,” Bao told London’s Natural History Museum. “As a photographer, I believe that it is my responsibility to let people know that wild animals are indispensable friends to humans.”
Sir Michael Dixon, the museum director, said in a news release that the plateau is often referred to as the “Third Pole” because of the “enormous water reserves held by its ice fields.” The area, he said, is under “threat” because of “dramatic temperature rises” attributed to global climate change.
“At a time when precious habitats are facing increasing climate pressures, seeing these fleeting yet fascinating moments reminds us of what we need to protect,” Dixon said.
The grasslands where the foxes live are used by livestock herders, according to the museum, which means the foxes’ habitat and food sources are disturbed by humans. Their usual prey — the plateau pikas — “are subject to eradication attempts,” according to the museum. If the pikas disappear, so could the foxes.
“Images from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau are rare enough, but to have captured such a powerful interaction between a Tibetan fox and a marmot — two species key to the ecology of this high-grassland region — is extraordinary,” Cox said.
Bao’s photo was selected from 48,000 entries across 100 countries. The museum also awards a Young Photographer of the Year, who this year is Cruz Erdmann for his photo of a glowing big-finned reef squid off the coast of Indonesia.
Both photos will be displayed at the Natural History Museum in London, with 98 other pictures, from Oct. 18 to May 31.
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