Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2009

Iziko Museum, Company Gardens, Cape Town. Until 13th March 2010.

I visited the exhibition recently and marvelled at most of the photographs. Being a bit of a photographic purist, I could not appreciate the 2008 and 2009 winners receiving accolades for photographs that had been ‘organised’ by the setting off of trap-beams, instead of physically pressing the shutter.

The winner this year ‘Storybook Wolf’ has now been disqualified because it is believed that the animal was a ‘tame’ one … an explanation follows:

Wildlife Photographer’s storybook

 wolf has sad end

The Natural History Museum has disqualified the winner of the Wildlife Photography of the Year 2009 prize


The stunning picture of an extremely rare Iberian wolf jumping a gate, which won the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year award in 2009, has been disqualified after judges decided a Spanish photographer had staged it.

In a statement, the Natural History Museum said: “It saddens us to confirm that after a careful and thorough investigation into the image, ‘the Storybook Wolf’… the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide have disqualified the winning entry of the photographer José Luis Rodríguez.”

The move confirms what a dossier of evidence sent to the judges by a group of rival Spanish photographers had claimed: that the wolf in the photograph was probably a tame model. Specifically, they said the wolf is called Ossian and lives at Canada Real, a zoological park near Madrid.

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition rules clearly state that photographs of animal models may not be entered into the competition. Louise Emerson, a spokesperson for the competition, said the judging panel had reconvened and determined that the wolf in the photograph was likely an animal model that could be “hired for photographic purposes”.

Rodríguez strongly denies the wolf in the image is tame.

The disqualification means that for the first time in its 46-year history, there will not be a winner for Wildlife Photographer of the Year and that ‘Storybook Wolf’ is to be removed from the exhibition. Rodríguez will not get his £10,000 prize money, but he will be allowed to keep the £500 he received for winning his category, animal portraits. This is in lieu of the royalty payments that would be due to him for the use of the photograph in memorabilia relating to the competition.

The news is particularly unfortunate for the annual photography contest, which this year has been criticised for a lacklustre selection of entries. For the first time in several years, the overall winner was clearly the standout best photograph – even if it was “too good to be true”, as one of the judges, Mark Carwardine put it. 

However, there are many more wonderful photographs to view.  Lee Slabber from Fish Hoek has a portrait of a leopard accepted – Congratulations, Lee. Do make the effort to get there.  Parking is generally available in Queen Victoria Street – about R10 per hour …

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