Sergey Gorshkov, a Russian wildlife photographer, had never seen a wild tiger before setting up a camera trap and hoping for the best. With only 500 Siberian tigers left in the wild, he wasn’t sure he’d capture one on film – let alone win the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award.
But the resulting photo, featuring a giant tiger rubbing up against a tree, did more than turn a few heads. It grabbed the attention of the competition’s judges, and others around the world.
The once-in-a-lifetime shot was taken at the Leopard National Park in Russia’s Far East forests. This wasn’t new territory for Sergey, as he specializes in photographing the “Polar Regions of Russia” according to his Instagram bio.
The photo displays an endangered female Siberian tiger, standing up and wrapping her arms around a tree and rubbing it with her chin.
Just like how house cats rub their chins on things to spread their scent, this giant feline was doing the same.
The rarity of these tigers in the wild makes the shot that much more special. Siberian tigers have been hunted to near extinction, though their numbers are slowly coming back up thanks to conservation efforts. Less than 100 years ago, there was estimated to be only 20-30 of these tigers left in the wild, according to the IUCN’s red list report. Now, there’s an estimated 500. Beyond their low numbers, they’re also constantly on the move, making them hard to capture in photos. The Russian Geographical Society says that “Tigers are almost always in motion.”
Gorshkov captured the incredible shot by rigging a camera trap in a tree and waiting. According to his Instagram post, “He found his ideal setting, minus the cat, and hid his camera on a tree.” And as BBC shared, Sergey left the camera in the tree for 10 months before recovering the film. But upon reviewing the camera’s memory card, he quickly realized his patience paid off. What he had captured was second to none.
Gorshkov shared in his Instagram post that he was quite pleased with the tiger’s “coat harmonizing with the surroundings.” Roz Midman-Cox, the chair judge of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award, couldn’t agree more. She told BBC that the elements of the photo are a work of art. She said, “The lighting, the colors, the texture – it’s like an oil painting.”
“It’s almost as if the tiger is part of the forest. Her tail blends with the roots of the tree. The two are one,” she continued.
It’s not hard to see what Kidman-Cox is referring to. The Siberian tiger really seems to melt into the forest around her, as if the colors and lighting were perfectly planned for that very moment in time. It’s definitely a photo that’s worthy of an award!
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