Rare picture of Snow Leopard scoops top prize in international contest. Hampshire teenager wins Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. Exhibition of winning images opens at Natural History Museum today

The winners of the world?s most prestigious wildlife photography contest have been announced, and the 83 winning images go on display at the Natural History Museum, London, today in one of the photography calendar?s most popular exhibitions.

American photographer Steve Winter scooped the top prize with a rare picture of a Snow Leopard, while 15 year old Catriona Parfitt, from Swanwick, near Southampton, won the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year title with a dramatic picture taken in Namibia.

Wiltshire-based photographer David Maitland won two categories: The ?One Earth Award? for his disturbing picture Sacrifice highlighting the illegal bushmeat trade in Gabon; and the ?Behaviour: All Other Animals? category with Deadlock which captures a life and death struggle between a snake and a treefrog.

The exhibition, which is owned and oranised by the Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife magazine, will be on at the Natural History Museum until April 26th, and will feature all 83 winners, Runner Up and Highly Commended entries. Phone 020 7942 5000 for details, or see the press release, below.

Full list of category winners:

Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife – Steve Winter (USA)

One Earth Award ? David Maitland (UK)

Animals in their Environment ? Yongkang Zhu (China)

Behaviour: Birds ? Antoni Kasprzak (Poland)

Behaviour: Mammals ? Cyril Ruoso (France)

Behaviour: All Other Animals ? David Maitland (UK)

The Underwater World ? Brian Skerry (USA)

Animal Portraits ? Stefano Unterthiner (Italy)

In Praise of Plants ? Cece Fabbro (USA)

Urban and Garden Wildlife ? Jamie McGregor Smith (UK)

Nature in Black and White ? Carlos Virgili (Spain)

Creative Visions of Nature ? Miguel Lasa (UK/Spain)

Wild Places ? Andy Biggs (USA)

10 Years and Under ? Alessandro Oggioni (Italy)

11-14 Years ? Jean de Falandre (France)

15-17 Years ? Catriona Parfitt (UK)

Pic, top right: Troublemaker by Stefano Unterthiner (Winner, Animal Portraits category)

0/02107.jpgWildlife Photographer of the Year 2008 winner: Snowstorm Leopard, by Steve Winter

8/8220.jpgYoung Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2008: The Show, by Catriona Parfitt

w/wpoty-maitland1.jpgDavid Maitland?s winning images. Left, Sacrifice (?One Earth Award?). Right, Deadlock (Behaviour: All Other Animals?)

Press release

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2008 winners announced

Ten months spent tracking extremely rare snow leopards in isolated areas of northern India and Pakistan have reaped rewards for American photographer Steve Winter, who was named as Wildlife Photographer of the Year last night (29/10) in a ceremony at London?s Natural History Museum.

British teenager Catriona Parfitt, from Swanwick near Southampton, took the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year title at the awards widely recognised as the most prestigious of their type in the world.

The pair succeeded in a record field of 32,351 entries from 82 countries. The best of these visually-stunning, sometimes humorous and often thought-provoking photographs ? winners, runners-up or commended in the competition?s 17 categories ? will be showcased in an exhibition opening tomorrow (31/10) at the Natural History Museum.

Steve?s Snowstorm leopard was taken with one of 14 remote-controlled cameras he used during a marathon photo shoot in Hemis High Altitude National Park in northern India. Steve, from Hoboken in New Jersey, spent several months camping, planning and shooting in freezing conditions as low as -40 degrees Celsius before finally getting his desired photo of a snow leopard in a snow fall, capturing the atmosphere of this endangered cat?s extreme environment.

?There are only a few thousand of these animals left in the wild. I was thrilled to have finally captured the shot I had dreamed of ? a wild snow leopard in its true element,? Steve said.

Competition judge Mark Carwardine said ?Everything comes together in this striking picture ? the drama of the snow, the mystery of the darkness, the posture of the rarely photographed snow leopard and the intriguing composition?.

Catriona?s image, The show, pictures a lion launching a risky attack on an adult giraffe.

It takes time for young lions to learn giraffes are dangerous ? a well-placed kick from their long legs could be fatal for the predator. As Catriona and assembled gemsbok watched one evening near a waterhole in Namibia, a young male lion repeatedly harassed a thirsty giraffe.

?Perhaps a twitchy, solitary giraffe was just too much of a temptation for a bored lion, because every time the giraffe got anywhere near the water, the lion loped down and chased it away,? said the 15-year-old from Southampton. The lion was, she said, ?just toying with it?.

Competition judge, Rosamund Kidman Cox, described the image as ?Quite simply an astonishing shot. Stage, action, story and onlookers combine to make an

unforgettable scene.?

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition is owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine. Last year, the exhibition at the Museum attracted nearly 134,000 visitors, and more than a million others will see the winning photos at regional and international venues after their London debut.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition spokesperson Heather Clark Charrington said ?Over 44 years, this has grown to become the world?s most prestigious wildlife photography competition. We are not only attracting record entries, but also huge audiences.

People come to see the world?s best wildlife photographs, but they also gain new insights. Many of the images will challenge viewers to think about our natural world in different ways, which is central to the Museum?s mission.?

Mark Carwardine said ?The judges spend weeks in a darkened room, looking at thousands of beautiful images, but the final exhibition photographs have a creativity, originality and sheer drama that set them apart. The competition plays an increasingly crucial role in raising the profile of wildlife photography and generating awareness of conservation. Nothing speaks louder than an evocative photograph that stirs the imagination, tugs at the heart strings and engages the mind.?

Photographers have from January until the end of March 2009 to submit their entries for next year?s competition. Enter online at www.nhm.ac.uk/wildphoto.

Exhibition information for visitors:

Venue: Natural History Museum

Dates: 31 October 2008 ? 26 April 2009

Opening times: every day, 10.00?17.50 (closed 24?26 December)

Visitor enquiries: 020 7942 5000

Admission: £7, £3.50 concessions, £18 family ticket (up to two adults and up to three children). Free for Members, Patrons and children aged three and under.

Nearest tube: South Kensington

Website: www.nhm.ac.uk/wildphoto

Visitors can buy tickets at the Museum or online.

Latest details of UK regional and international tour venues are available on the website.