Anteater in prize-winning wildlife photo is stuffed, say judges

Natural History Museum takes down picture, but Marcio Cabral is adamant he did not fake it

The dramatic photograph of an anteater approaching a glowing termite mound in the dead of night was originally considered a worthy winner of a Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. The prize has now been withdrawn after judges noticed a problem: the anteater pictured is almost certainly a stuffed animal kept outside a visitor centre.

The Natural History Museum, which administers the awards, has disqualified the Brazilian wildlife photographer Marcio Cabral for attempting to deceive judges by submitting a picture of a taxidermy specimen in the “animals in their environment” category.

Stuffed anteater
The stuffed anteater that is kept on display at a visitor centre at the Emas National Park, Brazil. Photograph: NHM

After a “thorough investigation” involving two mammal experts and a taxidermy specialist from the museum, in addition to two South American experts, it was concluded that the photograph features the dead anteater that greets visitors at the entrance to Brazil’s Emas National Park.

“The five scientists, working independently of each other, all concluded that 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,” said a spokesperson for the museum.

The investigation followed a tip-off from a third party that the photograph, entitled The Night Raider, broke competition rules, which demand that “entries must not deceive the viewer or attempt to misrepresent the reality of nature”.

Cabral, who strongly denies using a stuffed animal in the image, claimed in his original submission that he had spent three years waiting for the right conditions to capture the glowing termite mounds. According to his original caption, the photographer spent days frustrated by rain in Emas National Park before a “giant anteater ambled out of the darkness” and stayed “just long enough” for him to take a single photo.

The museum said Cabral co-operated with the investigation and supplied image files taken before and after the winning shot. None of them included the anteater.

According to the museum, Cabral also offered a witness who claims he also saw the animal alive, but the investigators were unconvinced.

Roz Kidman Cox, a member of the 2017 judging panel, issued a stern warning to others who submit dubious images in an attempt to win awards: “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.”

The image had been on display at the Natural History Museum since October as part of a paid exhibition. On Friday morning it was removed from the gallery wall and replaced with a notice explaining the alleged falsification.

Fellow photographers were baffled by Cabral’s apparent attempt to dupe judges. “If that’s true, he’s just done himself so much more harm than is necessary,” said Brent Stirton, who won the overall Wildlife Photographer of the Year prize in the same awards ceremony. “There are plenty of experts in our field and sooner or later, if you do that kind of thing, it catches up with you.”

Stirton said winning such an award can make a “huge difference for people who on their way up”. “For the wildlife world, this is their Oscars. This is a big deal. Guys spend their whole career trying to win one of these ones. It’s one that counts.

“I’m just a bit sorry for this guy. I’m not sure if he did fake this, but if he did it’s a sign of desperation. I don’t want to be that guy because that kind of stain will follow you around. Even if you take the greatest wildlife picture ever taken, people are going to doubt it.”

Stirton said fake images would usually be detected: “A great deal of us are just photographers and we rely on genuine experts to know how animals behave. Those people spend their whole life looking at those animals. If you think you can slip one past those guys, it’s optimistic at best and arrogant at worst.

“Why take that kind of risk? Because surely if you do that and collect an award, in the back of your mind you’re waiting to be uncovered?”

This is not the first time the competition has been hit by accusations of fakery. In 2010, the overall winner lost his award following claims that he hired a tame wolf to feature in the winning photo.


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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