Stunning wildlife photography award winners from The Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2018 – images captured with patience and a love for conservation.

Winners of the Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2018 in their full glory. The awards were instituted to showcase the contributions of India’s best wildlife photographers.

Sanctuary promotes conservation photography as evocative images have the power to draw out supportive human responses. Photography has helped protect wildernesses virtually from the time cameras were invented. Conservation photography is a blend of technical skills, natural history knowledge, field experience, and an innate desire to protect wild nature. Every year the vast pool of stunning photographs reinforces the urgent need to conserve India’s wildlife.

Winners: Sanctuary Wildlife Photographer of the year 2018

Sanctuary Wildlife Photographer of the year 2018: Death Steppe by Baiju Patil

A blackbuck fawn sprints across the grasslands of Rajasthan’s Tal Chappar Sanctuary
with a Steppe Eagle in determined, aerial pursuit. Photographer Baiju Patil has an uncanny knack for being at the right place at the right time. The contrast between the colossal wingspan and grasping talons of the raptor and the fragile little fleeing antelope immediately claim attention. This image is just as illustrative of India’s stunning but neglected grassland habitats that myriad species depend upon. Raw, dynamic… and yes dusty. You’ll feel the grit in your teeth and the desert heat.

1st Prize Winner_38_Baiju Patil_Eagle and Deer_Tal chhapar National Park, Gujarat_SWPA 2018

1st Prize Winner: Baiju Patil – Eagle and Deer – Tal Chhapar National Park, Gujarat

Second Prize: Swan Lake by Lakshitha Karunarathna

On an icy morning on the banks of lake Kussharo in Hokkaido, Japan, Lakshitha Karunarathna’s patience gifted her one heavenly sight. A drift of Whooper Swans floating in arrow head formation against a backdrop of snow-frosted mountains, framed by a latticework of tree branches reflected in the water.

The low, wide angle frame has the swans dwarfing the mountains, infusing the scene with a sense of the surreal. Whooper Swans are amongst the world’s largest flying birds and undertake long distance migrations to their wintering sites. They’re also the avian world’s consummate romantics, as they pair bond for life. This pastel toned picture is an ode to the serenity of nature and the silence of winter.

2nd Prize Winner_81_Lakshitha Karunarathna_Wooper Swan_Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido island, Japan_BJ1I6270_C - 1024 x 682

2nd Prize Winner: Lakshitha Karunarathna – Whooper Swan, Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido island, Japan

Third Prize: Paradise City by Sarang Naik

Hidden behind the sight of hot pink waders flying past cookie-cutter apartment blocks in Navi Mumbai is an unfolding story of community conservation. When local residents uncovered the City and Industrial Development Corporation’s plans to convert the Talawe wetlands into a golf course and residential zone, they took their anguish to court.

The legal drama ended with the court confirming that these are wetlands. This image of the arrival of hundreds of Lesser Flamingos to Talawe is strong enough deposition for why wetlands must be preserved. Flamingo pink and apartment yellow is a flamboyant colour combination!

3rd Prize Winner_122_Sarang Naik_Flamingo_Mumbai_IMG_0316_CG_Q_C - 1024 x 682

3rd Prize Winner: Sarang Naik, Flamingo, Mumbai

Certificate of Merit: Keyhole Chameleon by Aditya Sanjay Dharne

Emerald. Swamp. Jade. Pea. So very many subtle shades of green in this one inscrutable frame. It looks like stagnant water, but it’s from a tiny rip in a leaf that the eye of a chameleon is examining the world. Our subject would have been tarmac chutney if it weren’t for photographer Aditya Sanjay Dharne who spotted it trying to cross the busy Chandrapur-Mul highway in Maharashtra.

Dharne escorted his reptilian ward across the road, where it allowed him a few frames before being swallowed by the greenery. The Indian chameleon is an incredible little ambush predator with a prehensile tail, quirky feet shaped into bifid claspers, independent eye movement and the signature ability to change colour, though not to camouflage but in response to the temperature and to communicate.

COF_13_Aditya Dharne_Chameleon_Eye_Chandrapur_DSC_4376_SWPA 2018_C - 1024 x 683

Aditya Dharne, Chameleon Eye, Chandrapur

Certificate of Merit: Impossible Odds by Biplap Hazra

A stream of heartbreaking images have emerged from photographer Biplab Hazra’s long-term documentation of wild elephants in West Bengal. Here in the Bankura district, beleaguered herds desperately navigate a landscape that would be unrecognisable to their foremothers.

The railway authorities didn’t consider their ancient pathways when they laid this track, and every year a memory’s worth of elephants is wiped out by speeding trains. The little calf teetering at the edge of the platform represents a great species, one gifted with intelligence, compassion and innovation, that is proving to be no match for the ruinous hand of man. Hazra’s frame is a desolate plea to make amends, a caustic statement on the ecological cost of development, an embarrassing rumination on our definition of progress.

COF_45_Biplap Hazra_Elephant_Coridoor_Railway_Bishnupur, Bankura, West Bengal_DSC_0509_C - 1024 x 683

Biplap Hazra, Elephant Coridoor Railway Bishnupur, Bankura, West Bengal

Certificate of Merit: All Smiles by Ganesh Chowdhury

Though it inhabits one of the most densely populated regions in the world and has been graced with the title of India’s National Aquatic Animal, we know very little about the Ganges river dolphin.

In the villages here, there is a misconception that dolphins bite people. The irony is that it is these dolphins that are threatened by humans and not the other way around. The degradation, loss and pollution of their freshwater habitat, coupled with threats from fishing, has pushed them to the very brink of extinction. This glorious picture that shows off the Ganges river dolphin’s most distinct features – its thin snout, large flippers and pinhole eyes – draws attention to the decline of this endangered, misunderstood species.

COF_Ganesh Chowdhury_Doilphin_DSCN2198_C - 1024 x 670

Ganesh Chowdhury, Dolphin

Certificate of Merit: At His Leisure by Pasan Senevirathne

Being at the top of the food-chain has its perks. The luxury of sleeping in, for starters. The self-assured leopards of Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park have no competition from other big cats and can afford lazy moments of leisure. It was past 8 am when Pasan Senevirathne’s guide led him to a tree, which he had seen a leopard climb into the previous evening.

To their surprise, the cat was still asleep on a bough, and continued to snooze for another hour, oblivious to his audience. When he finally emerged from his slumber with an almighty yawn, Senevirathne was ready to capture the moment for posterity. The unparalleled grace of the leopard and the delicate embellishments of moss on the tree make for an image that exudes ease and power.

COF_Pasan Senevirathne_Leopard on Tree_DSC_7612_C - 1024 x 684

Pasan Senevirathne, Leopard on Tree

Certificate of Merit: Out Cold by Senthil Kumaran

Everything about this picture screams chaos, and the panic on the faces of the forest guards hints at the unseen story. Photographer Senthil Kumaran was alerted to an emergency operation underway in a village on the outskirts of the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu.

He arrived to a scene of pandemonium – a wounded tiger cowering in fear, with a mob of 500 village men armed with sticks and stones closing in on it. Tragedy was averted by the quick response of the Forest Department team, whose members risked their lives to control the crowd long enough to tranquillise the cat. Almost as impressive is Kumaran’s ability to document the frenzied mood and urgency of the moment. It is a picture that accurately represents the high stress and stakes of managing human-wildlife conflict in a country of over 1.2 billion people.

COF_124_Senthil Kumaran_Tiger_Mob killed_Valparai, Near Anamalai Tiger reserve_IMG_0808_C - 1024 x 683

Senthil Kumaran, Tiger Mob killed Valparai, Near Anamalai Tiger reserve

Certificate of Merit: Shortcut Through Saspotse by Surya Ramachandran

At the edge of a village named Saspotse in Ladakh, a snow leopard winds its way through the ruins of an old Buddhist gompa to reach its kill. After spending over a year walking high cliffs in the company of trackers Tsewang Norbu and Stanzin Farma, Surya Ramachandran came to the realisation that the only time snow leopards are easy to observe is when they’re settling down to eat.

So when the trio received news that a dzo had been killed on the outskirts of Saspotse, they reached the site at the crack of dawn. They were rewarded with an entire day in the snow leopard’s company. He retreated to the high cliffs to loll during the day, and then returned to the kill via this unexpected shortcut at dusk. Ramachandran’s lovely, minimalistic frame shows an animal in its prime, extraordinarily handsome and enigmatic.

COF_134_Surya Ramachandran_Snow Leopard_Buddhist Gompa_Saspotse, near Ulley, Sham, Leh, Ladakh, JnK_IMG_0582_C - 1024 x 683

Surya Ramachandran, Snow Leopard, Buddhist Gompa Saspotse, near Ulley, Sham, Leh, Ladakh

Honourable Mention: Battle Royale by Abhishek Shirsat

Residents of the rain-washed hamlet of Agumbe, Karnataka, watch enthralled as two male king cobras engage in combat. Locals have tolerance and fascination for the species, thanks to living alongside them for generations. The consistent outreach work by members of the nearby Agumbe Rainforest Research Station supplements their innate respect with knowledge, which accounts for their lack of fear, as the largest poisonous snakes in the world proceed with their ancient dominance ritual.

The exhausted loser will depart, leaving the winner with mating rights with the female whose pheromones had lured them both to the site. Abhishek Shirsat’s action image juxtaposing king cobras and humans epitomises the attitudes of Indians whose cultures are steeped in tolerance and reverence for life.

HM_Abhishek Shirsat_King Cobra Combat_People_Agumbe, Karnataka_IMG_9329_C - 1024 x 683

Abhishek Shirsat, King Cobra Combat, People, Agumbe, Karnataka

Honourable Mention: Twilight Zone by Arun Kumar N. K.

Somewhere on the fringe of our everyday reality, this fantasy sunset scene came to life. In Hospet, not far from the rich World Heritage Site of Hampi, a quiet afternoon gave way to a spectacular evening. One that turned the sky a blazing orange and cast the world in silhouette. The filigreed reach of the tree, the mammoth boulder, the casual loop of the langur’s tail… this gentle image exudes ease and quietude.

HM_30_Arun Kumar NK_Tree and Langur_Karnataka_SWPA 2018_Cc - 1024 x 683

Arun Kumar NK, Tree and Langur, Karnataka

Honourable Mention: Hellhounds by Dhananjay Joshi

Outside the safety of the enclosures erected for their protection in Rajasthan’s Desert National Park, two Great Indian Bustards (GIBs) narrowly escape the jaws of feral dogs. Photographer Dhananjay Joshi was peacefully watching two adults and three juveniles of this critically endangered species foraging when two dogs entered his frame. Alerted by their barks, the heavy birds took flight.

But had the attack occurred just a few months earlier when the juveniles were fledglings, they would have been ripped to shreds. With fewer than 100 Great Indian Bustards left in the wild, India could see its first major species extinction since the disappearance of the cheetah within the next decade. Joshi’s image is honest evidence of one of the many challenges to GIB conservation.

HM_Dhananjay Joshi_Great Indian Bustard_DNP_CR9V7232_SWPA 2018_Cc - 1024 x 683

Dhananjay Joshi, Great Indian Bustard

Honourable Mention: Mammoth Gateway by Karthick Kumar

Aptly called the ‘Land of Roar and Trumpet’, Uttarakhand’s Corbett Tiger Reserve is tiger and elephant country. On his very first trip to this forest of flowing rivers, blue waters and sal-dappled glades, Karthick Kumar sighted an elephant herd with nearly 50 individuals moving towards the Ramganga river. Spending more than two hours with these gentle giants enabled him to document such heart-warming moments.

HM_Naturographers (Karthick Kumar)_Elephant_Corbett_DSC0747_C - 1024 x 577

Naturographers (Karthick Kumar), Elephant, Corbett

Honourable Mention: ‘Sup? by Ripan Biswas

Ripan Biswas’s single-minded focus on macro photography sees him content to photograph the insect life around his home in Coochbehar. Biswas spent hours standing in a swamp to make this image of an inquisitive looking red paper wasp. Suspended in mid-air, its wings a blur of motion, its antennae illuminated, the wasp stands out against the indigo sky.

Red paper wasps use their saliva and vegetation to build their papery nests and are voracious little hunters. That Biswas created a clear image using manual focus, despite the size and speed of his subject is a feat that only those in the know will be able to appreciate.

HM_Ripan Biswas_Red Paper Wasp_Coochbehar, West bengal_DSC_5104_C - 1024 x 684

Ripan Biswas, Red Paper Wasp, Coochbehar, West Bengal

Honourable Mention: Saffron Striped Tide by Soumabrata Moulick

On a summer morning in Ranthambhore, devotees walked to and from the temple within the park. The movement of pilgrims, especially those on foot, inside Protected Areas has been an issue of contention for years. The chances of encountering wildlife are high, and the human impact on the landscape can be devastating.

But given the passions that religion inflames, the subject has rarely been broached by political leaders. The four Hindu pilgrims had been warned of the presence of a tiger in the area but had stubbornly crossed over the bridge. Perhaps they would have been less casual had they been aware of the massive male tiger sleeping below their feet. Moulick’s picture shatters any reputation of the tiger being a bloodthirsty beast.

HM_Soumabrata Moulick_Tiger_Pilgrims_Ranthambhore_DSC_6050_1_C - 1024 x 683

Soumabrata Moulick, Tiger and Pilgrims, Ranthambhore

Honourable Mention: Moon Frame by Surya Ramachandran

On a plateau in Hanle, Ladakh, a pair of Tibetan gazelle stand silhouetted in the milky glow of the rising moon. Surya Ramachandran envisioned, plotted and planned this lunarscape in balmy Chennai and then withstood freezing desert winds to execute it. This distant corner of the country harbours exquisite, specialist species such as the high-altitude Tibetan antelope, and is famous for its clear, star-spangled night skies. The flat terrain creates the illusion that the massive circumference of the moon is within touching distance, serving as the perfect backdrop for images in silhouette.

HM_Surya Ramachandran_Tibetan Gazelle Moon_Hanle, Leh district, Ladakh, JnK_IMG_9000_C - 1024 x 683

Surya Ramachandran, Tibetan Gazelle Moon, Hanle, Leh district, Ladakh

Honourable Mention: In the Trenches by Abhinav Garg

The tiny Jhalana Forest Reserve in Jaipur is India’s big cat aficionados’ new favourite haunt. Though just over 20 sq. km in size, the reserve is home to a staggering density of leopards. With no competition from tigers, they are the apex predators here and gradually getting habituated to the tourist gaze.

While on safari, photographer Abhinav Garg encountered this gorgeous female seeking asylum from gawking visitors in the safety of a narrow trench dug by the Forest Department. Wildlife tourism in India is in sore need of refinement. Hemmed in by the chaos of Jaipur and inhabiting a mere fraction of their normal territory size, the rosetted cats survival here is foolproof evidence of their adaptability and resilience.

HM_Abhinav Garg_Leopard_Jhalana_SWPA 2018_C - 683 x 1024

Abhinav Garg, Leopard, Jhalana

Honourable Mention: The Spitian Sphinx by Nikhil B. Vatsal

What is it about snow leopards that is so entirely beguiling? As Nikhil B. Vatsal discovered, is it their talent for invisibility? Vatsal’s superlative habitat shot, all layers and muted colours, has at its nucleus a cheeky, photobombing snow leopard (which probably isn’t visible, if you’re viewing this on your phone screen)! The stark Spiti valley in Himachal Pradesh has become a popular destination for wildlife photographers, which has catalysed a community of local guides who expertly track these big cats.

HM_Nikhil B Vatsal_Snow Leopard_Spiti_Himachal_DSC1224_1_C - 683 x 1024

Nikhil B Vatsal, Snow Leopard, Spiti, Himachal Pradesh

Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2018 panel of judges included Bittu Sahgal – Editor of Sanctuary Asia, Steve Winter – National Geographic conservation photographer, Dr Anish Andheria – conservation photographer & President of the Wildlife Conservation Trust, Nayan Khanolkar – educationist, naturalist & wildlife photographer, Dr Parvish Pandya – Head, Science, Natural History and Photography, Sanctuary Asia and Lakshmy Raman – Executive Editor, Sanctuary Asia.

Also Read: 

Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards: Funniest Animal Photos You’ll Love

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018: 10 Astonishing Shots We Loved