It’s one of those images you have to look at again and again. The question that pops into your mind is, “What is actually going on here?”. Perhaps competition judge Charlie Hamilton James summed it up best: “A cracking shot of a lion tickling a hippo".
Of course, the reality is more gruesome (as you can view in this video — but, warning — it is definitely not for the faint of heart). The grass still in the hippo’s mouth, interrupted so unexpectedly from its morning graze. The powerful pose on its back, legs in the air. For all these reasons and more, our judges concurred that Harry Collins's shot was the winner of The Greatest Maasai Mara Photographer of the Year 2021.
But what a difficult decision it was, with more than 1,000 exceptional images from 359 photographers to choose from. Our judging panel selected 5 finalists each month from January through October, then somehow managed to whittle the Top 50 down to the Top 10. Below, find the 10 Finalists with the moment described by the photographer as they captured each scene.
Once in a Lifetime by Harry Collins— "In a moment that I will never forget for the rest of my life, I watched a male lion solo hunt and take down a young hippo. After we watched a lioness attempt a hunt but fail, she exited the area leaving this male alone. Thinking it was unlikely there would be any more excitement, suddenly the young hippo started walking towards the male lion. We could see that the lion was starting to stalk the hippo; he charged and the two-faced off. The hippo made a crucial mistake by deciding to turn its back and run, and the rest is history".
The Mighty Clash by Alistair Smith— "Well position and ever-patient at the infamous Peninsula crossing point in the southern section of the Mara Triangle, we waited for a rather large herd of wildebeest to make their way down to the river. After a lengthy wait characterised by the usual back-and-forth behaviour, the mounting pressure eventually broke and the crossing was on! The only difference with this crossing was that there were hungry lions in wait… and wait they needn’t had to, as they rushed in amongst the panicked herd and systematically picked off three exiting wildebeest. The male in the picture seemed to struggle at first to latch onto his prey before eventually locking onto his target, slipping down the wet rocks and landing in the Mara River where he managed to deliver the final blow, before dragging his well-earned meal out of the river to a point where he was able to feed in relative peace".
Deadly Fall by Paolo Torchio— "During one of the recent crossings in the Mara, a lioness took advantage of the chaos, trying her luck, jumping between the running wildebeest. One of them, terrorised by the chasing lion, did not realise how deep the sand was, stumbling just in front of the big cat. The fight for survival is always a mix between power, balance and strength. Each of these qualities can make the difference between those that die and those that live one more day".
Long Legs by Jose Fragozo— "Some time ago, on a rainy day, I took some pictures of animals through the window of a vehicle. I realised that the rainwater running down the glass allowed me to create strange images. Since then, I have been trying to develop techniques with the camera to control the diffraction of light on the sensor, on days without rain. This is one of the images that the camera captured, without the use of any type of software".
Double Take by Rodney Bursiel— "I’m always looking for interesting groupings of elephants. I can spend hours just watching their movements and positioning. When I saw these two line up like this I couldn’t believe how perfectly they aligned to create what looked like a single elephant".
The First and Last Crossing by Mark van Kints— "We arrived at the riverside when the mother zebra had already been killed and was only partially visible just above the surface. A hippo had taken interest in the body and was fending off some smaller crocodiles that eventually managed to swim off with part of the intestines. It wasn’t until a massive crocodile entered the scene — and started thrashing the body — that it became clear the mother was pregnant. In a matter of seconds, the crocodile had managed to isolate the calf from the rest of the body, reducing it to a rather gruesome one-bite-sized meal, and it took only a few more seconds to devour the whole thing. Nature in its harshest form".
Feline Hug Between Father and Son by Philippe Henry De Frahan — "This image is so intense that it doesn’t need a lot of words to describe this emotional moment of a father and son hugging. Even if it lasted a few seconds, I will always remember this scene".
Hiding in the Mist by Riz Jiwa— "On an early drive in Naboisho, and in the ephemeral blue light of pre-sunrise, I saw this back-lit scene with the heavy, moisture-laden clouds at the back and light wispy puffs of mist floating across the plains. All night I’d been listening to lions sounding off all along the valley in which our camp lay and the thought that these topi were somehow using the mist for cover flashed through my mind… as impossible as that would be".
Serenity by Paolo Torchio— "Covered in dew, Imani’s cubs huddled up together under mum soaking up the early morning rays".
Storm Duty by Ivan Glaser— "I chose a very wet week to visit the Mara and photographic opportunities were hard, but not impossible to find. This image of three impala rams standing guard over the herd in what was an insane downpour is one of my favourites".
Prints of these images, along with the 40 other photographs that made the Top 50, are now available for purchase on The Greatest Maasai Mara Photographer of the Year Shop. Printing, packaging and worldwide delivery is included, with the proceeds split between the photographer and the conservation partner their image was entered in aid of. If you missed the event, you can watch the awards ceremony on-demand here.
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The Greatest Maasai Mara Photographer of the Year