Yawning leopards, duelling cobras, an eagle zeroing in on its prey and other candid shots of animals in their natural habitats feature in the winning entries of the Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Award 2018, which were announced at an event in Mumbai on Friday evening.

The annual competition is organised by Sanctuary Nature Foundation, which also brings out the Sanctuary Asia magazine, with the objective of promoting wildlife conservation through photography.

Three winners were chosen by a panel of judges comprising Sanctuary Asia Editor Bittu Sahgal, executive editor Lakshmy Raman, Dr Parvish Pandya, a senior member of the magazine team, National Geographic conservation photographer Steve Winter, conservation photographer and President, Wildlife Conservation Trust Anish Andheria and educationist, naturalist and wildlife photographer Nayan Khanolkar. An additional six photographers were given a Certificate of Merit and nine received honourable mentions.

The competition was organised in association with the Urvi Ashok Piramal Foundation.

'Swan Lake' by Lakshitha Karunarathna, shot at Lake Kussharo in Hokkaido, Japan, won the second prize. “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,” said the press note. “The low, wide angle frame has the swans dwarfing the mountains, infusing the scene with a sense of the surreal.” Considered one of the world’s heaviest flying birds, the species can fly thousands of miles in the winter to warmer climates. They are found in large parts of Europe and East Asia and occasionally, in North America and the Indian subcontinent.
The third prize went to Sarang Naik for 'Paradise City', which frames pink flamingoes against the backdrop of Navi Mumbai’s cramped highrises. The lesser flamingos come to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region as migratory birds in the winter. Birders and conservationists in the region say that the number of migratory visitors to the city has been steadily declining. Residents of Nerul and nearby areas of Navi Mumbai are campaigning against a plan to convert the Talawade wetland there into a golf course and residential area. “This image of the arrival of hundreds of Lesser Flamingos to Talawe is strong enough deposition for why wetlands must be preserved,” said the Sanctuary Nature Foundation’s note. “By capturing an incongruous moment of magic, Sarang Naik reminds us of how effortlessly nature enhances our lives.”

Certificate of Merit

'Out Cold' by Senthil Kumaran captures a tiger being rescued by forest department officials near the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu. “He arrived to a scene of pandemonium – a wounded tiger cowering in fear, with a mob of five hundred village men armed with sticks and stones closing in on it.” said the press note. “Tragedy was averted by the quick response of the Forest Department team, whose members risked their lives to somehow control the crowd long enough to tranquillise the cat.” The tiger, extinct in many parts of the world, is classified as endangered by the IUCN red list.
A chameleon’s disguise gives away in Aditya Sanjay Dharne’s 'Keyhole Chameleon', which capture’s the reptile’s eye through a rip in a leaf. According to the press note, Dharne spotted the animal trying to cross the Chandrapur-Mul highway in Maharashtra and escorted him to safety.
Two elephants try to negotiate a railway crossing in 'Impossible Odds' by Biplab Hazra. “Here in the Bankura district, beleaguered herds desperately navigate a landscape that would be unrecognisable to their foremothers,” says the press note. “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...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.”
In 'All Smiles' by Ganesh Chowdhury, the elusive Ganges river dolphin, India’s national aquatic animal, makes a rare appearance. “With both images and information being sparse, Ganesh Chowdhury’s superlative portrait of a dolphin in West Bengal’s Hooghly river took the judges’ breath away,” said the note. “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.” The species is classified as endangered by the IUCN, with pollution, habitat fragmentation and fishing threatening their numbers.
'At His Leisure' by Pasan Senevirathne shows a leopard awaking from his nap at Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park. “The unparalleled grace of the leopard and the delicate embellishments of moss on the tree make for an image that exudes ease and power,” said the Foundation.

Honourable mentions

‘Twilight Zone’ by Arun Kumar NK frames a langur against the setting sun in Hospet, Karnataka. “Not far from the rich World Heritage Site of Hampi, a quiet afternoon gave way to a spectacular evening,” said the note. “The filigreed reach of the tree, the mammoth boulder, the casual loop of the langur’s tail... this gentle image exudes ease and quietude.”
'In the Trenches' by Abhinav Garg was shot in the Jhalana Forest Reserve in Jaipur, which was set up in 2016. The leopard safari is the main draw of this small sanctuary. “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,” said the note. “Wildlife tourism in India is in sore need of refinement, but it is undoubtedly a tool that needs to be wielded for conservation. 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.”
Abhishek Shirsat’s ‘Battle Royale’ captures two male king cobras locked in combat as residents of the Ambuge village in Karnataka’s Shimoga district look on. “Locals have both tolerance and fascination for the species, thanks in part to living alongside them for generations,” said the press note. “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.” According to the note, the winner of the battle gets to mate with a female snake the two are vying for.
‘Mammoth Gateway’ by Karthick Kumar captures an affectionate moment between elephants at Uttarakhand’s Corbett Tiger Reserve. “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,” said the Sanctuary Nature Foundation. “Spending more than two hours with these gentle giants enabled him to document such heart-warming moments.”
In 'Sup?', Ripan Biswas uses macro photography to capture a wasp mid-flight. “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,” said the press note. “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.”
In ‘Striped Tide’ by Soumabrata Moulick, a group of men walk by in Rajasthan’s Ranthambore National Park, oblivious to the fact that there’s a tiger in their midst. “The movement of pilgrims, especially those on foot, inside Protected Areas has been an issue of contention for years,” said the note. “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...If nothing else, Moulick’s picture shatters any reputation of the tiger being a bloodthirsty beast.”