An award winning image of an anteater moving towards a termite mound at night has been disqualified from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.
The photograph, taken in Brazil’s Emas National Park, won the Animals in their Environment category in 2017, but has been stripped of the award after experts concluded it was likely the animal it features is a taxidermy specimen.
The Natural History Museum, which runs the international competition, said it had been contacted by anonymous sources who questioned the authenticity of the image.
An investigation examined high resolution images of a taxidermy anteater kept on display at a visitor centre at the Portao do Bandeira gate, which is one of the entrances to the park, and compared it to the one in the winning image.
Five mammal and taxidermy experts, working independently of each other, all concluded there are elements of the animal’s posture and features, 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 it also considered the responses to questions put to the photographer Marcio Cabral, who co-operated fully with the investigation and supplied RAW image files taken before and after the winning shot, none of which included the anteater.
The photographer provided an explanation as to why he had no other images of the anteater, and a witness who claims he saw the live animal, and strongly denies the one in the image is a taxidermy specimen, the museum said.
The Natural History Museum ruled the image breaks the rules of the competition, which require entrants not to deceive the viewer or attempt to disguise and/or misrepresent the reality of nature.
Roz Kidman Cox, a member of the 2017 judging panel and current chair of the 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, 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.”
In 2009, the overall winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award was disqualified after judges ruled that the wolf photographed jumping over a gate was probably a trained “animal model”.