Winner, Behavior: Birds — Emperor penguins jump from the water to escape predatory leopard seals on the edge of the Ross Sea in Antarctica. The birds can skyrocket up to two meters out of the water. The penguins' survival is vital to that of their 2-month-old chicks, hungrily waiting some 10 kilometers away.
Paul Nicklen/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Winner, The World In Our Hands Award — The photographer was on a boat in Svalbard, an archipelago midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, when she saw this polar bear at around 4 in the morning. She used a fish-eye lens to make the enormous animal appear diminutive and create an impression of "the top predator on top of the planet, with its ice world breaking up."
Anna Henly/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012 Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Winner, Behavior: Cold-blooded Animals — A yacare caiman waits for fish to come within snapping reach in the shallow, murky waters of Brazil's Pantanal — the largest wetland in the world. Caimans can grow to be 3 meters in length.
Luciano Candisani/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Winner, Creative Visions — In the winter, the 22-kilometer-long estuary of the Ria Celestun on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula attracts thousands of Caribbean flamingos, which congregate here to feed on the microscopic life in the shallow, briny water. They also use their time to engage in synchronous courtship dancing as a prelude to breeding.
Klaus Nigge/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Winner, Behavior Mammals — Cheetah cubs engage in hunting practice with a wounded Thomson's gazelle calf in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.
Grégoire Bouguereau/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Winner, The Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife — An African wild dog is seen in Zimbabwe's Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve. The pack had traveled four kilometers to the Sosigi Pan for water, only to find it totally dried up.
Kim Wolhuter/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Winner, The Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year (part of a six-picture story) — A young Bengal tiger triggered a camera and photographed itself as it crossed through a fence at Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh, India. Some parts of the park have insufficient prey for the big cats, so park officials have deliberately made holes in the fence so they can venture out for food.
Steve Winter/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Winner, Animal Portraits — An alligator is seen at Myakka River State Park in Sarasota, Fla. Like cats, alligators have a tapetum lucidum at the back of each eye — a structure that reflects light back into the photoreceptor cells to make the most of low light. When light shines into alligators' eyes, the pupils appear to glow red.
Larry Lynch/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Winner, Eric Hosking Award (part of a larger portfolio) — A nocturnal porcupine is photographed hours before dawn in Canada's Banff National Park. "I had to use a slow shutter speed and maximum aperture opening, along with a narrow flash beam," said the photographer.
Vladimir Medvedev/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Winner, Urban Wildlife — Forty years ago, a family of 13 people lived in this cottage in Suomusjarvi, Salo, Finland. They are long gone, but it is still a winter home to many woodland creatures, including this red squirrel, which lives in the attic.
Kai Fagerström/Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
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I admit it: As much as I love hard-hitting photojournalism, there is something about photos of animals that gets me every time. So when I found out that the 2012 Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest was announcing its winners, I had to take a look.
The contest, now in its 48th year, pulls together the best of nature photography from around the world. Almost 48,000 images are judged by an international panel, and the winners — about 100 in all — will be exhibited at the Natural History Museum in London starting Friday.
While many professional photographers received top recognition (including Steve Winter and Paul Nicklen, who have been featured on The Picture Show), many newcomers were also recognized. The contest even has categories for young photographers ages 10 and under.
"It amazes me to discover new and startling moments that have never been seen before," said Jim Brandenburg, chairman of the judging panel, in a recent press release.
The photos will be on exhibit at London's Natural History Museum from Oct. 19 through March 2013, before going on a world tour.
And while we can only show 10 of the photos here, you can check out all of the winning and commended images on the Natural History Museum's website.