WILDLIFE WINNER: Twin Polar Bear Cubs
Photographer: Jenny E. Ross
Location: Wapusk National Park, Manitoba, Canada
Polar bear young are usually born in a snow den on land or, less often, on floating pack ice. They are tiny and helpless at birth, weighing about 1.5 pounds. After three months, when the mother bear breaks open the natal den, the cubs have grown to approximately 20 to 30 pounds. The family typically remains at the den site for about a week, exercising and adjusting to the cold until the cubs are ready to travel.
Due to warmer temperatures in recent years, the breakup of sea ice on Hudson Bay is occurring earlier each summer, and these bears now have significantly less time to accumulate necessary fat reserves before being marooned on land. Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) scientists predict that if present climate change trends continue to affect their hunting range, within the next 15 to 20 years most female polar bears in the region may be unable to reach the minimum body weight necessary to sustain pregnancy.
"I had the extraordinary opportunity to photograph these young twin polar bear cubs while accompanying CWS biologists during field research in Wapusk National Park, one of the world's largest known polar bear denning areas. We located a mother bear near her den and saw that her cubs were still inside. The mother bear was immobilized with a tranquilizing dart so the health of this family could be assessed. When she was safely unconscious, the biologists began weighing and measuring her, while I slowly crawled inside the den. The cubs became so comfortable with my presence that they paid me the highest compliment by falling asleep as I photographed them."
YOUTH PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR: Leopard Cub
Photographer: Matthew Burrard-Lucas
Location: Okavango Delta, Botswana
The beautiful Okavango Delta in Botswana, with its profusion of wildlife, is incredible. Going out to explore in a 4x4 yields wonderful natural sights. On this particular morning, our guide heard over his radio that a female leopard and her cubs had been spotted close to our camp. It didn't take us long to get there. At first she was hidden away in dense bush, and her cubs were nowhere to be seen. Then, after about ten minutes, she appeared from the undergrowth and jumped onto a fallen tree, her cubs close behind. The mother seemed totally undisturbed by our presence as I focused on her wide-eyed, inquisitive cubs. When this mischievous leopard cub clambered onto the upturned branches, I framed the shot. The soft early morning light didn't cause harsh shadows, but the low light forced me to use an ISO of 800 to maintain a fast enough shutter speed. This was especially important, since I was only resting the lens on a bean bag. It was one of those moments when you hope the animal doesn't move before you can compose the shot and click the shutter. Thankfully, the cub remained still as I captured this portrait."