It is a heart-wrenching image of the damage wreaked by climate change: an emaciated polar bear in the north of Canada dragging its feet, desperately searching for food in a garbage bin, before lying down, seemingly hours away from its death.
The photograph, along with an emotional video, was shot by Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen on Somerset Island, now an ice-less land. Explaining their inability to help the starving animal, the photographers said that it would have needed hundred pounds of meat to survive. So what they did instead “was push through our tears, knowing that this footage was going to help connect a global audience to the biggest issue facing us as a species today”.
Mittermeier and Nicklen’s image is among 18 photographs that were liked the most on National Geographic’s Instagram handle in the year gone by.
Fear and apprehension is apparent in Mittermeier’s image, as also in Jayaprakash Bojan’s portrait of an Orangutan in Borneo, Indonesia, as the endangered ape tries to find its way in a crocodile-infested river. The spectacular picture won Bojan the Nature Photographer of the Year contest, and had more than 1.6 million likes on Instagram.
With 1.9 million likes, it is an image taken by conservation photographer Charlie Hamilton James, though, that topped National Geographic’s list. In the Amazon rainforests, James shot a striking portrait of Kauai, a young boy from the Awa tribe, posing with a baby monkey perched atop his head.
Among other photographs on the list is Brian Skerry’s picture of two harp seal pups seen sharing a warm moment on a mass of ice in the sea.
A crab rests on top of grey-coloured marine iguanas in Thomas Peschak’s photograph, which was accompanied by the caption: “Galapagos marine iguanas live on the edge – the difference between life and death is a few degrees of temperature. The world’s only ocean going lizards graze on cold water seaweeds. Increases in sea temperature have detrimental effects on marine iguana populations. No seaweed=No iguanas.”
In Frans Lanting’s photograph, a male cougar, with menacing green eyes, stares into the camera. Eye to Eye was posted on World Animal Day on October 4, with a caption that described Lanting’s process: “When I photograph animals I try to bring out their personalities just as people photographers do that with their subjects. In Belize [Central America] I spent several hours with this magnificent male cougar before he relaxed to a dreamy pose that I felt captured his mood.”
Amidst the abundant imagery of animals, natural phenomena too manage a few spots. Jimmy Chin’s photograph of the total solar eclipse in August, amassed over 1.7 million likes.
Andy Mann’s photograph, meanwhile, captures the wave rise in Selvagem Pequena Island in the Western Sahara territory. The “sea monster” rise takes the shape of a mountain with a snow-capped glistening peak.