A photo of a tigress hugging a tree in Siberia has won the prestigious Wildlife Photo Of The Year from London’s Natural History Museum.
Photographer Sergey Gorshkov beat out almost 50,000 other entrants with his winning photograph, taken in Land of the Leopard National Park, a large reserve for tigers and leopards in Far East Siberia.
Gorshkov set up his camera facing a tree that already had claw marks, signaling that it’s been used as a territorial marker by at least one of more than 30 adult tigers in the park.
Sure enough, a tigress stopped to claw new marks on the tree and rub her scent on it, which is the same behavior we see with house cats when they rub on objects — and people — in the home. Cats have scent glands on their faces and paws which allow them to mark objects with pheromones. It’s a cat’s way of leaving a “sign” saying “This is mine.”
The photo has an ethereal quality, with the tigress and tree illuminated by shafts of sunlight poking through the canopy of the ancient forest.
An announcement from the park’s staff describes the scene:
The photo titled “Hugs” shows the moment in which the rarest Amur tiger hugs a century-old fir to mark the target tree with its scent. Sergey Gorshkov, with the support of professional guides from Land of the Leopard, took a picture using a professional camera with a motion sensor.
“This is a scene like no other, a unique look at an intimate moment deep in a magical forest,” said Rose Kidman Cox, chairwoman of the contest’s jury.
The photo “inspires hope” for the endangered Amur tiger, Cox said. In addition to the 30-plus tigers, Land of the Leopard National Park is also home to at least 10 tiger cubs and almost 100 leopards.
Gorshkov’s photo wasn’t the only feline winner this year. “When mother says run,” a photograph by China’s Shanyan Li, shows a trio of Pallas’ cubs with their mother “on the remote steppes of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in northwest China.” The photograph won in the mammalian behavior category.