An award-winning wildlife photographer has seen a prestigious prize withdrawn after it was ruled his victorious entry featured a stuffed animal.
Brazil-based Marcio Cabral scooped a top prize in the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition last year for his image of giant anteater at night.
However, an investigation has now found it is “highly likely” the animal in his winning photograph, which topped the Animals in their Environment category in 2017, is a taxidermy specimen.
The Natural History Museum were alerted to a possible breach of competition rules by anonymous sources in March.
As a result, a team of scientists worked independently to examine images of a taxidermy anteater on display at an entrance gate to the Brazilian national park where Mr Cabral took his winning photo.
They compared these images with Mr Cabral’s entry “The Night Raider”, which features an anteater feeding at a glowing termite mound in Emas National Park.
The team of scientists was made up of two mammal experts and a taxidermy specialist from the museum, along with an external South American mammals expert and an external anteater researcher.
They all concluded there are elements of the animal’s posture, morphology, raised tufts of fur and patterns on the neck and head that are too similar for the images to show two different animals.
The museum said Mr Cabral cooperated fully with the investigation and provided images before and after the winning photo was taken, none of which included the anteater.
He gave an explanation as to why he had no other images of the anteater and provided a witness who says he saw the live anteater.
Mr Cabral, who has won many awards in his 20-year career, strongly denies the anteater in his image is a taxidermy specimen.
Roz Kidman Cox, a member of the museum’s 2017 judging panel and current chair of the competition’s jury, said: “I find it disheartening and surprising that a photographer would go to such lengths to deceive the competition and its worldwide following.
“The competition places great store on honesty and integrity, and such a breach of the rules is disrespectful to the wildlife photography community, which is at the heart of the competition.
“This disqualification should remind entrants that any transgression of the rules and spirit of the competition will eventually be found out.”
The caption alongside Mr Cabral’s winning photo stated: “Marcio had been visiting the National Park for three years waiting for the right conditions to capture the glowing termite mounds.
“After days frustrated by rain, he was in for a surprise.
“A giant anteater ambled out of the darkness and stayed just long enough for Marcio to take a single picture, using a long exposure and flash to highlight his unexpected companion.”
Mr Cabral will no longer be considered the winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year category and has been banned from entering the contest in future years.
The museum said a new winner cannot be announced in his place.
It is not the first time the competition has been hit by controversy, after the overall winner in 2009 was disqualified when judges ruled a wolf photographed jumping over a gate was probably a trained “animal model”.