The Nature Conservancy have unveiled the winners of its 2021 photo contest, and what a stunning set of images they are!


This year’s winners were selected by a panel of judges that included renowned American singer-songwriter Ben Folds, who is himself an avid photographer. From more than 100,000 entries, the Grand Prize went to a photo of a western lowland gorilla walking through a cloud of butterflies in the Central African Republic, taken by photographer Anup Shah of the United Kingdom. Folds said of the winning image: “I like photos that keep dragging you in. The [gorilla’s] face. Tolerance or bliss. It’s really hard to tell and the insects draw you there.”

The People’s Choice award went to Prathamesh Ghadekar of India for a photograph of fireflies congregating around a tree before a monsoon.

“These images are a gorgeous and unforgettable reminder of the vibrancy and awe-inspiring power of nature,” said Meg Goldthwaite, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for The Nature Conservancy. “Year after year, we are amazed, delighted, and moved by these scenes from around the world. They remind us how connected we all are on this planet, and they energise us as we continue the important work of conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends.”

We have picked out our favourites from this year's competition in our gallery below:

Grand prize winner

Western lowland gorilla female 'Malui' walking through a cloud of butterflies she has disturbed in a bai (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). Bai Hokou, Dzanga Sangha Special Dense Forest Reserve, Central African Republic. December 2011.
Western lowland gorilla female 'Malui' walking through a cloud of butterflies she has disturbed in a bai (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). Bai Hokou, Dzanga Sangha Special Dense Forest Reserve, Central African Republic. Photo by Anup Shah/The Nature Conservancy

Landscape category first place

Photo by Daniel De Granville Manco
Carcass of a Pantanal alligator (Caiman yacare) in the dry soil on the banks of the Transpantaneira highway, municipality of Poconé, Mato Grosso, Brazil. Photo taken with a drone on 4 October 2020, at the height of the droughts that hit the Pantanal that year. Photo by Daniel De Granville Manco/The Nature Conservancy

Water category third place

Photo by Man Wai Wong
This aerial photo was taken during the winter of 2019, and shows a waterfall in Iceland. Photo by Man Wai Wong/The Nature Conservancy

People's choice award winner

Photo by Prathamesh Ghadeka
Just before a monsoon, fireflies congregate in certain regions of India and on a few trees like this one in their millions. This particular image is made up of 32 frames of this tree taken on a tripod. Later the images were stacked in Adobe Photoshop. This image contains 16 minutes of viewing time of this amazing tree. Photo by Prathamesh Ghadeka/The Nature Conservancy

Wildlife category honourable mention

Photo by Thomas Vijayan
Orangutans are accustomed to live on trees and feed on wild fruits like lychees, mangosteens, and figs, and slurp water from holes in trees. Sadly, this Orangutan sits on tree stumps that have recently been cut down. Photo by Thomas Vijayan/The Nature Conservancy

People and nature category third place

New danger to underwater life ‘Covid-19 wastes’ // New danger to underwater life ‘Covid-19 wastes’ According to a report prepared by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), plastic waste equivalent to 33,880 plastic bottles is being mixed into the Mediterranean per minute. one of the countries hit most plastic waste coming to the shores of Italy and then Turkey. The medical wastes used during the pandemic process we live in reach the seas due to the human
Plastic waste floating around in the Mediterranean sea. Photo by Sebnam Coskun/The Nature Conservancy

Landscape category honourable mention

During the wet season the Gulf of Carpentaria in tropical north Queensland, Australia, holds a myriad of winding rivers, estuaries, creeks and streams that create one of natures intricate vivid landscapes. Lush green mangroves line the mud flats accentuated by the tidal waters and months of rain filling the artesian basin. Photo by Scott Portelli/The Nature Conservancy

Water category honourable mention

Photo by Mahn Cuong Vu
The lotus ponds across Vietnam are entering the growing season and flourishing. Photo by Mahn Cuong Vu/The Nature Conservancy

People and nature category first place

Sibolangit, SOCP Quarantine Centre, North Sumatra, Indonesia. The whole SOCP team works together to prepare Brenda, an estimated 3-month-old female orangutan (she has no teeth yet), for surgery. A sedative is administered, the arm is shaved, her temperature is taken, while others hold her head or her hand out of compassion for the baby. During the three-hour procedure, Dr. Andreas Messikommer, a renowned orthopedic surgeon invited from Switzerland, will place a pin and screws to secure the damaged humerus. Brenda was confiscated from a villager in Blang Pidie on the west coast of Aceh who was keeping her as a pet. General caption: Indonesia’s Sumatran orangutan is under severe threat from the incessant and ongoing depletion and fragmentation of the rainforest. As palm oil and rubber plantations, logging, road construction, mining, hunting and other development continue to proliferate, orangutans are being forced out of their natural rainforest habitat. Organizations like the OIC (Orangutan Information Centre) and their immediate response team HOCRU (Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit), rescue orangutans in difficulty (lost, injured, captive...) while the SOCP (Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme) cares for, rehabilitates and resocializes orangutans at their purpose-built medical facility, aiming to reintroduce them into the wild and to create new self-sustaining, genetically viable populations in protected forests. That we share 97% of our DNA with orangutans seems obvious when you observe their human-like behavior. Today, with just over 14,000 specimens left, the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo Abelii) along with the 800 specimens of the recently discovered Tapanuli species (Pongo tapanuliensis), are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The whole Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme team works together to prepare Brenda, an estimated 3-month-old female orangutan who has been rescued, for surgery. Taken at Sibolangit, North Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Alain Schroeder/The Nature Conservancy

Landscape category honourable mention

Photo by Kim Pan Dennis Wong
The photo was taken at Hong Hom area of Hong Kong on 23 August 2021. When the full Moon was rising and just passed the rooftop of the buildings, the shot was taken using a double exposure. Photo by Kim Pan Dennis Wong/The Nature Conservancy

Take a look at our full Harvest Moon picture gallery:

Water category second place

Swimmers, freedivers and divers enjoy their respective sport/recreational activities in a Fresh Water mass know locally as the Cenotes, Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico. Photo by Joram Mennes/The Nature Conservancy

People and nature category second place

Photo by Tom Overall
A guide in the Sahara Desert enduring a sand storm. Photo by Tom Overall/The Nature Conservancy

Wildlife category third place

Photo by Viktor Vrbovsky
A pike caught a large perch and was trying to eat it. We do not know what the final result was, due to the photographer running low on air during his dive. Photo by Viktor Vrbovsky/The Nature Conservancy

Landscape third place

Aerial image of salt evaporation ponds, near San Francisco, USA. Photo by Jassen Todorov/The Nature Conservancy

Check out some more of our galleries:


People and nature honourable mention

Two men use a zipline to transport animals and good across the river in Yunnan, China, May 2021. Photo by Minqiang Lu/The Nature Conservancy

Landscape second place

Photo by Denis Ferreira Netto
Part of the Serra do Mar mountain range in Brazil emerges from the clouds. Photo by Denis Ferreira Netto/The Nature Conservancy

Wildlife category honourable mention

Galapagos sea lion calf (Zalophus wollebaeki), waiting for its mother in the sand on the beach, San Cristóbal Island, Galapagos, Ecuador. Photo by Kristhian Castro/The Nature Conservancy

Water honourable mention

Photo by Jorge Andres Miraglia
As temperatures rise and glacial ice melts, air is released and caught inside bubbles. These air bubbles were caught by a frozen layer on top. Photo by Jorge Andres Miraglia/The Nature Conservancy

Wildlife category second place

Last year, due to a high water level, this giant field of sunflowers in Poland could not been mown. In winter it attracted thousands of different species of birds. Photo by Mateusz Piesiak/The Nature Conservancy


James CutmorePicture Editor, BBC Science Focus

James Cutmore is the picture editor of BBC Science Focus Magazine, researching striking images for the magazine and on the website. He is also has a passion for taking his own photographs