Wildlife Photographer of the Year’s ‘Stuffed Animal’ Image Disqualified

Wildlife Photographer of the Year’s ‘Stuffed Animal’ Image Disqualified

In this age of nearly unlimited image hacking available to photographers, photo contests have become a tricky business. Perhaps ironically, though, the internationally renowned Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition has for the second time had to disqualify a winning image because of a problem with the subject. In 2010, photographer José Luis Rodriguez was stripped of the overall first prize when contest organizers became aware that the Iberian Wolf he photographed was likely a tame animal available for use in photo shoots.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year’s ‘Stuffed Animal’ Image Disqualified

This year’s incident is even more strange. The winning photograph in the category Animals In Their Environment, purportedly of an anteater about to invade a termite mound lit by the stars and insect bio-luminescence, was in fact of a stuffed animal normally found near the entrance to the Emas National Park in Brazil where the image was captured (above). The image “The Night Raider,” taken by Marcio Cabral (top), was officially disqualified, as it was highly likely to be a taxidermy specimen. The disqualification was decided on after a team of five scientists agreed that the animal was likely not an actual, living, anteater.

It’s Not Surprising the Fraud Wasn’t Detected Earlier

I’ve entered the National History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition several times over the years, and have been fortunate enough to have a number of images make it through to the final judging level. So I know how carefully they evaluate submitted images that are being considered for prizes. As a start, of course, the submitted image has to be very high quality technically. Later in the process, an original (typically RAW) version of the image is requested.

An image of mine that made it to the finals in the same contest category (Animals in their Environment) as the anteater photo, several years ago.
An image of mine that made it to the finals in the same contest category (Animals in their Environment) as the anteater photo, several years ago.

What is unique about this particular deception is the step of verifying the image capture itself would not have detected the fraud. Unlike the case of the controversial World Press Photographer award-winning photo of a Palestinian funeral procession, the captured image didn’t need to be doctored after the fact in Photoshop. The fraud — as with the tame wolf — was in the creation of the scene.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year’s ‘Stuffed Animal’ Image Disqualified

In this case, the photographer had no other images of the anteater. Now, by itself that isn’t entirely unusual, for unusual sightings, especially at night. But anteaters aren’t exactly fast-moving, so it definitely didn’t help his cause. More damning was the scientists’ comparison of the animal’s “posture, morphology, raised tufts of fur, and patterns on the neck and head” to the stuffed version and conclusion that they were the same animal. Unfortunately, in addition to being a depressing development for wildlife photographers, it also means there will be no winner in that category for 2017. The contest is judged blind, but now the names and images of all the other finalists are public, so there is no way to re-judge them.

(Impala and Polar Bear image credit: David Cardinal)

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