Sex and food

Yes I thought that will get your attention.

I’ve come to realise that most wildlife photography is fundamentally about food and sex. No, I don’t mean breakfast in bed or offering the last of the After Eight to the wife before testing the bed springs to destruction. Wildlife photography calls for extraordinary patience and stoicism from its practitioners. Sometimes filming in hostile environments simply in order to make a particular point may be essential to illustrate a particular argument. Sometimes a given shot presents itself on a platter more or less. Sometimes in the case of wildlife literally so. But mostly

Every year, my elder daughter and I visit the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition at the Natural History Museum. It’s become a habit. The judges, some half-dozen photographers, biologists and researchers are, every year, tasked with sifting more than 30,000 photographs in 16 categories, everything from the sex life of Southern Right Whales (believe me, if you were a diver, you would not wish to be caught in the middle of that) to animals eating each other.

Whether we like it or not, many animals eat other animals, in many cases while still alive. The Yucatan rat snake devouring a bat (Fernando Constantino Martinez Belmar) is sufficient to put you off your lunch. Equally, the battle between the grizzly bears and sockeye salmon seems unequal with such vividly red fish (Adam Rice). Nature seems to have screwed up here. Obviously the magnificent crimson helps to attract a mate and comes in handy further up the stream. But it also makes you a very attractive seafood platter as far as the bears are concerned. Far be it from me to question the Almighty’s plans but I can’t help thinking that staying a murky sort of khaki colour whilst passing the bears and then changing into your cardinal costume would be a better gig. You obviously make a much less attractive suitor when missing a head for instance. But then I suppose we wouldn’t have bears since the salmon are their main diet.

Bears are naturally inquisitive, polar bears particularly so. Dmitri Koth’s image of a polar bear gazing out of a derelict building’s window with a sort of watching-the-world-though-by expression makes him look particularly cuddly and not in any respect the murderous apex predator he actually is. If you want cuddly, Douglas Kimesy’s lockdown adoption of the wombats fits the bill nicely.

All of animal life is there, from intimate little moments to big broad brush commentaries on deforestation or sweeping vistas of wildebeest on migration. If I’m honest, I am not crazy about bugs, even very colourful bugs. Same goes for the bizarre underwater spiders and jellyfish. Very pretty, lots of colours, really not my thing.

Some pictures made me angry. A Brydes whale being choked by discarded fishing net (Judith van der Griendt) or a spectacled bear puzzled at his diminished environment (Daniel Mideros) some were somehow redeeming. My personal favourite was of a 13 year old mountain gorilla,Ndakasi, dying peacefully of a virus in a park ranger’s arms.

Perhaps most remarkable are the photographs taken by children, some 10 years and younger. And often with spectacularly expensive kit. It probably says more about my innate cynicism that makes me question the authenticity of such pictures. Put another way, who set up the shot? Who pressed the shutter. Or perhaps it’s just jealousy of such talent. But I can’t help feeling that the parents of Amaya Shah (close-up picture of two male lions) were somewhat abrogating their responsibilities in allowing Amaya within only a few metres of the lions, however cuddly they appeared. Apex predators. My mother would shoo away small terriers in the street, let alone lions. And Jack Russells are not apex predators. Not by a long chalk.