A Siberian tiger is crouching on its hind legs, its feet buried in thick leaf litter, as it leans against an old gnarled tree in orer to scent mark it. The ancient forest disappears into the background in  tangle of trunks and branches, as a dappled sunlight falls over the scene.

The Embrace, by Sergey Gorshkov, took this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year grand title at the Natural History Museum.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020 winning images

Photographer Sergey Gorshkov's picture wins the Wildlife Photographer of the Year grand title with an ethereal image of a Siberian tiger scent-marking a gnarled fir tree in the Russian Far East. 

The picture, titled The Embrace, shows the intimate moment an endangered Siberian tiger hugs an ancient Manchurian fir tree to mark it with her scent. It took Russian photographer Sergey Gorshkov over 11 months to capture using motion sensor cameras.

Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge announced the image as the grand title winner in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, which received over 49,000 entries.

Roz Kidman Cox, the Chair of the judging panel, says 'It's a scene like no other, a unique glimpse of an intimate moment deep in a magical forest.

'Shafts of low winter Sun highlight the ancient fir tree and the coat of the huge tigress as she grips the trunk in obvious ecstasy and inhales the scent of tiger on resin, leaving her own mark as her message.

'It's also a story told in glorious colour and texture of the comeback of the Amur tiger, a symbol of the Russian wilderness.'

Big cats of the Far East

The Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), also known as the Amur tiger, is a subspecies of the big cat that can be found in the Russian Far East, northeastern China and potentially into North Korea. 

Once forming a distribution right across northern Eurasia down into Turkey and along the Caspian Sea, the Siberian tiger is now limited to the far eastern edge of their historic range.

The largest subspecies of tiger, these big cats were hunted for their fur and bones until as few as 20-30 individuals remained in the wild. Thanks to a concerted conservation effort, this number has steadily increased to potentially as many as 550.

One of their strongholds is Russia's Land of the Leopard National Park, established to protect another endangered big cat, the Amur leopard. It is in this protected reserve that Sergey managed to photograph this beautiful Siberian tiger deep within the ancient fir forests in which they live.

Dr Tim Littlewood, the Museum's Executive Director of Science and jury member, says 'Hunted to the verge of extinction in the past century, the Amur tiger population is still threatened by poaching and logging today.

'The remarkable sight of the tigress immersed in her natural environment offers us hope, as recent reports suggest numbers are growing from dedicated conservation efforts.

'Through the unique emotive power of photography, we are reminded of the beauty of the natural world and our shared responsibility to protect it.'

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: about Sergey Gorshkov

Born in a remote Siberian village, Sergey grew up immersed in the nature of the Russian wilderness. For most of his life, he was more likely to look at wild animals through the crosshairs of a rifle rather than the lens of a camera, before a trip to Africa and an encounter with a leopard changed the course of his life.

Since then, he has dedicated his life to taking beautiful pictures of animals to connect the world to the wildlife that we are slowly losing. He now specialises in the polar regions of Russia, seeking out the bears, foxes and geese that inhabit these frigid realms.

Sergey is the founding member of the Russian Union of Wildlife Photographers. His images are printed in magazines around the world and he has garnered awards in Russia, the UK, Italy and France. He also organises personal exhibitions and seminars in Russia and Europe.

Find out more about the conservation of the endangered Siberian tiger and Sergey's work. 

 

A red fox crouches under a moss covered rock snarling at the camera as it defends the remains of a goose. Feathers and blood can be seen in the fox's mouth, as it's feet hold down part of the gooses's wing.

The fox that got the goose by Liina Heikkinen won this year's Young Photographer of the Year award

The young Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The top prize for Young Photographer of the Year has been awarded to Liina Heikkinen for her dramatic picture of a young red fox (Vulpes vulpes) fiercely defending the remains of a barnacle goose from its five rival siblings in the wild of Finland.

Liina has spent much of her time exploring the natural history of her home nation along with her family of wildlife photographers.

Shekar Dattatri, a wildlife filmmaker and jury member, says, 'A sense of furtive drama and frantic urgency enlivens this image, drawing us into the frame.

'The sharp focus on the fox's face leads us straight to where the action is. A great natural history moment captured perfectly.'

See the exhibition

See this image alongside all of the other winning photographs at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition in London. 16 October 2020 - 6 June 2021