The winner of the Environment category of the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition has been disqualified after the competition’s organizers discovered the anteater starring in his dramatic nighttime image is stuffed. According to the competition, photographer Marcio Cabral—who had won £1,250 and a place in the awards exhibition in London’s Natural History Museum with his image ‘Night Raider’—was found to have included a ‘taxidermy specimen’ taken from the entrance to the park in which his picture was created.

Organizers’ suspicions were raised after an anonymous tip off that came supported by a picture of the anteater in question occupying its usual role as a greeter at the Portão do Bandeira gate of the Emas National Park in Brazil. Five independent science experts were called in to conduct a ‘thorough investigation’, and they concluded that the pose, markings, shape and fur patterns of the stuffed creature and the subject of Cabral’s picture were simply too similar—they had to be one and the same animal.

Cabral continues to plead his innocence, despite not being able to show a raw file that includes the anteater other than the shot he entered in the competition. Cabral provided a witness who testified that they saw the live animal, but the organizers were not convinced. Cabral had his award removed and is banned from entering ever again.

This isn’t the first time the competition has been struck by such circumstances. In 2009, the overall winning image was found to include a zoo wolf called Ossian being passed off as a wild animal. The photographer on that occasion, Jose Luis Rodriguez, also claimed he hadn’t cheated, but the judges concluded it was likely the wolf had been hired for the shot and the photographer was disqualified, leaving the competition with no winner for that year.

For more information on the disqualification, read the press statement below. And if you want to see the other, legitimate winners of this year's WPotY, visit the competition's website.

Press Statement

Press statement: Wildlife Photographer of the Year image disqualified

After a careful and thorough investigation into the image 'The night raider', taken by Marcio Cabral, the Natural History Museum, owner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, has disqualified the photograph, which was selected as winner of the 2017 Animals in Their Environment category.

Evidence was presented to the Museum by third parties that it is highly likely the animal in the awarded photograph is a taxidermy specimen. After a thorough investigation taking just over three weeks, the Museum has concluded that the available evidence points to this allegation being true. As a result, the Museum believes that the image breaches the competition rules. The rules clearly state that ‘entries must not deceive the viewer or attempt to misrepresent the reality of nature.’

The Natural History Museum is a world-leading scientific research institution. The team of scientists involved in the investigation comprised of two mammals experts and a taxidermy specialist at the Museum, plus two external experts; a South American mammals expert and an expert anteater researcher.

Evidence examined included high resolution photographs of a taxidermy anteater that is kept on open display in the educational collection at a visitor centre located at the Portão do Bandeira gate, one of the entrances of the Emas National Park – the large park where 'The night raider' was taken.

The anteater in the awarded image was compared to the taxidermy anteater depicted in the photographs received by the Museum. The five scientists, working independently of each other, all reached the same conclusion that there are elements in overall posture, morphology, the position of raised tufts of fur and in the patterning on the neck and the top of the head that are too similar for the images to depict two different animals. The experts would have expected some variation between two individuals of the same species.

The Museum also considered the responses to specific questions put to the photographer Marcio Cabral, who cooperated fully in the investigation, and who supplied RAW image files he claims were taken of ‘before’ and ‘after’ the winning shot was taken – none of which included the anteater. Mr Cabral did provide an explanation as to why he had no other images of the anteater. He also provided a witness who claims he saw the live anteater.

Mr Cabral strongly denies that the anteater in the image is a taxidermy specimen.

The competition rules clearly state that photographs achieved through unethical practices will be disqualified. The competition rules are available to all entrants including versions translated into several languages, including Brazilian Portuguese.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is the world’s most prestigious photography competition of its kind and any transgression of the competition rules is taken very seriously. The image will be removed from the exhibition and tour.