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Some wild comic timing

The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards recently announced the winners for 2017and the animals are funnier than ever before

‘Help!!!’ Little owl nestlings in Ópusztaszer, Hungary. This photograph is part of a sequence of four that was the overall winner of the 2017 awards. Photo: Tibor Kercz/Hungary
‘Help!!!’ Little owl nestlings in Ópusztaszer, Hungary. This photograph is part of a sequence of four that was the overall winner of the 2017 awards. Photo: Tibor Kercz/Hungary

What are the chances that a polar bear can make you laugh? Or, even better, that a red kangaroo posing like it’s in the middle of kung-fu training will tickle your funny bone?

All Dressed And Ready For Church’. Three king penguins approach the only church in Grytviken, South Georgia Island, appearing to be headed for services. Photo: Carl Henry/Houston, US

It might be difficult to wrap your head around the fact that wild animals and creatures can understand the art of comic timing, let alone master it. But this is the central theme of The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards (CWPA), started by UK-based wildlife photographers Tom Sullam and Paul Joynson-Hicks three years ago to create awareness about conservation, albeit with the help of a competition that was “light hearted…and mainly about wildlife doing funny things".

‘Slap’. A Green sea turtle slapping a Napoleon Māori Wrasse in the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Troy Mayne/Bacong, Philippines

In their third edition, the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards received more than 3,500 entries from over 80 countries—the winners were announced on 13 December.

‘Mudskipper’s Got Talent’. Two mudskippers fight over territory on the tidal mudflats in Krabi, Thailand. Their mouths open, they look almost as though they are singing a power duet. Photo: Daniel Trim/Hitchin, UK

The rules are simple. The animals should have been shot in the wild; there’s no scope for digital manipulation of the photographs since the CWPA team gets every image verified by digital specialists. It even asks for the original file. Pictures are judged on the basis of technical nous, how amusing the content (photograph) is, and the captions.

‘The Laughing Dormouse’. “I was hiking on a mountain close to my hometown (in Italy) when I heard a strange squeaking from the woods and...I found this cute baby dormouse on the top of a yarrow flower! I took just one shot and...amazed, I saw this picture on the monitor of my camera.” Photo: Andrea Zampatti/Monticelli Brusati, Italy

“If there is any suggestion that the animal is not in the wild, or has been disturbed purely for the images, then that image will not be accepted. We really want to promote enjoyment of wildlife, rather than any human intervention. This competition is all about celebrating those animals that share the planet with us humans," says Sullam, the competition director and chair of the judges panel, in an email.

Apart from Sullam and Joynson-Hicks, the jury has a mix of people from different backgrounds: from Will Travers, the chief executive officer of the Born Free Foundation, to the marketing director of the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (Katie Thompson), among others involved in conservation. “We need a good balance between experts and non-experts, and we think we have that," says Joynson-Hicks.

‘Monkey Escape’. Celebes crested macaques are a critically endangered primate found only in the northern region of Sulawesi, Indonesia. The Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve is an important habitat for this species and others. These two monkeys broke away from their group to ‘test drive’ a motorbike parked near the entrance to the reserve. Photo: Katy Laveck-Foster/ Seattle, US

The encouraging part is that the accolades need not be restricted to one person or photographer. The awards are divided across categories—so there are winners in the underwater category, creatures of the land and air, and an overall winner. There are even multiple winners of commendations.

With repeated instances of man-animal conflict coming to the fore almost every day—not just in India but across the world—the photographs exhibited by the CWPA are a welcome break from the monotonous perception that has surrounded wildlife documentation for some time.

WTF?’. A young northern elephant seal (‘Mirounga angustirostris’) reacts to his friend’s revelation that he voted for Brexit, at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, San Simeon (elephant seals are marine mammals, but they are hardly ever photographed underwater, and they spend inordinate amounts of time on the beach, to mate, to give birth and to just lie around). Photo: George Cathcart/Bluffton, US

“The goal was a small one—to raise a smile and raise awareness at a relatively low level. The success of the competition has meant that we are now reaching into millions of households with these hilarious images, and, at the same time, raising awareness about the plight of animals. It’s not all about huge results, but much more about letting people know that we can get a lot from wild animals, and we should be conscious of the real risks that all wildlife faces," Sullam adds.

‘Hitching A Ride’. A polar bear (‘Ursus maritimus’) mother exiting a day den, with a cub trying to catch a ride on mama’s bum, at the Wapusk National Park, Manitoba, Canada. Photo: Daisy Gilardini/Vancouver, Canada

The competition has grown and the animals are funnier than ever before. As Sullam says: “The standard just continues to rise…as do the laughs."

All photographs courtesy The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards, 2017; captions by the photographers.

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