Lounging leopard by Skye Meaker, South AfricaGrand Title Winner 2018, 15-17 Years Old

Cape Town - Sixteen-year-old South African Skye Meaker was this week named Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018 at a ceremony at the Natural History Museum, London, which runs the international competition.

Skye won the award for his charming portrait of a leopard waking from sleep in Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana. 

He said he has wanted to be a nature photographer since receiving his first pocket camera at the age of seven.

Mathoja the leopard’s home is Botswana’s Mashatu Game Reserve, which Skye and his family regularly visit . Though she dozed just metres away from Skye, she blended into the background, the morning light was poor, leaves kept blowing across her face, and her  eyes were only ever open briefly, making it hard for Skye to compose the shot he was after. 

Finally, just as she opened her eyes for a second, the overhead branches moved enough to let in a shaft of light  that gave a glint to her eyes, helping Skye create his memorable portrait.

"With precisely executed timing and composition, we get a coveted glimpse into the inner world of one of the most frequently photographed, yet rarely truly seen, animals," said competition judge and previous competition winner Alexander Badyaev.

Dutch photographer Marsel van Oosten won the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018 title for his extraordinary image, The Golden Couple, which frames a pair of golden snub-nosed monkeys in the temperate forest of China’s Qinling Mountains, the only habitat for these endangered primates.

The golden couple by Marsel van Oosten, The Netherlands, Grand Title Winner 2018, Animal Portraits

Chair of the judging panel, Roz Kidman Cox, says: "This image is in one sense traditional – a portrait. But what a striking one, and what magical animals. It is a symbolic reminder of the beauty of nature and how impoverished we are becoming as nature is diminished. It is an artwork worthy of hanging in any gallery in the world."

Natural History Museum Director Sir Michael Dixon says: "In a world which is in thrall to special effects, this image celebrates the majestic and otherworldly presence of nature, and reminds us of our crucial role in protecting it."

The two grand title images were selected from 19 category winner. Images from professional and amateur photographers were selected by a panel of industry-recognised professionals for their originality, creativity and technical excellence.

Beating over 45,000 entries from 95 countries, Marsel and Skye’s images will be on show in stunning lightbox displays with 98 other spectacular photographs.

The exhibition at the Natural History Museum opens on 19 October 2018 before touring across the UK and internationally.

Three other South African photographers were also recognised this year.

The meerkat mob by Tertius A Gous, South AfricaHighly commended 2018, Behaviour: Mammals
Cool cat by Isak Pretorius, South Africa Highly commended 2018, Animal Portraits.
Late-night feed by Susan Scott, South Africa Highly commended 2018, Wildlife Photojournalism

The next competition opens for entries from photographers of all ages and abilities on Monday.