Photography competition produces world's BEST wildlife images

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Amazing pics: Photography competition produces world's BEST wildlife imagesXavier Ortega/ Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011


The world's largest wildlife photography competition has produced stunning and oh-so-cute images of nature around across the globe.

The Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011 received 41,000 entries, of which only 108 were shortlisted.

The winners were announced last night at London's Natural History Museum.

British snapper Steve Mills, from Whitby in North Yorkshire, won the Behaviour: Birds category with an action shot of a merlin catching a snipe in the snow last winter.

A gorgeous picture, called Sleeping Infant, of a chimp snoozing on his mum in Tanzania got Spanish photographer Xavier Ortega a highly recommended prize, while the overall winner was another Spanish contender, Daniel Beltra, for his picture of eight brown pelicans who had been rescued by a Louisiana centre after last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

See a handful of the beautiful images that made the final cut below:

Still life in oil:

Amazing pics: Photography competition produces world's BEST wildlife imagesDaniel Beltrá/ Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

Crude oil trickles off the feathers of the rescued brown pelicans in Daniel's winning pic, turning the white lining sheets into a sticky, stinking mess. The pelicans are going through the first stage of cleaning at a temporary bird-rescue facility in Fort Jackson, Louisiana. They've already been sprayed with a light oil to break up the heavy crude trapped in their feathers, which has turned their normally pale heads orange and their brown and grey feathers mahogany.

Tiny warm-up:

Amazing pics: Photography competition produces world's BEST wildlife imagesCyril Ruoso/ Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

Folded up into a fur-ball, this youngster is warming its extremities in between bouts of play and feeding. He is part of a band of about 70 or so Qinling golden snub-nosed monkeys living high up in China's Qinling Mountains, surviving on lichen, leaves, bark and buds. There are only around 4,000 of this particular species left.

Salmon swipe:

Amazing pics: Photography competition produces world's BEST wildlife imagesPaul Souders/ Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

'I set out to show a salmon's-eye view of a swimming bear swiping at a fish with its huge paws,' says Paul. The location he chose was Katmai National Park in Alaska, and he arrived in time for the late-summer runs of red and chum salmon heading upstream to spawn.

Sinuousness:

Amazing pics: Photography competition produces world's BEST wildlife imagesMarco Colombo/ Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

Snakes can be difficult to find and even more difficult to photograph in an attractive setting. So when Marco found this female grass snake beside a beautiful stream in Lombardy, Italy, he knew he had struck gold.

Heavenly light show:

Amazing pics: Photography competition produces world's BEST wildlife imagesStephane Vetter/ Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

A major peak of solar activity in March triggered spectacular auroras over Jökulsárlón, the largest glacier lake in Iceland. 'Auroras are highly dynamic, and the lights move very quickly,' says Stephane. 'So you need long exposures to smooth out their beautiful draperies.' He waited for four hours in the bitter cold for the light show to begin - bu tit was obviously worth it.

The assassin:
Steve Mills/ Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

A severe freeze in December 2010 caused major problems for British birds, especially those needing to feed in mud. Even secretive birds were forced into the open. Knowing any snow-free area was a precious resource, Steve located a tiny patch of exposed grass near where he lives in Whitby, North Yorkshire, and waited. Eventually a snipe emerged and began feeding frantically. 'I was only a few metres away,' says Steve. 'In normal conditions, a snipe would be more cautious.' Within a few moments, though, it had paid the ultimate price. A merlin swooped in fast and low and grabbed it in a flurry of snow. Steve said: 'I was overjoyed to find I had captured the moment, but I also felt great sympathy for the loser.'