The dramatic photograph of an anteater approaching a glowing termite mound in the dead of night was originally considered a worthy winner of a Wildlife Photographer of the Year award.
The prize has now been withdrawn after judges noticed a problem: the anteater pictured is almost certainly a stuffed animal kept outside a visitor centre.
The Natural History Museum, which administers the awards, has disqualified the Brazilian wildlife photographer Marcio Cabral for attempting to deceive judges by submitting a picture of a taxidermy specimen in the “animals in their environment” category.
After a “thorough investigation” involving two mammal experts and a taxidermy specialist from the museum, in addition to two South American experts, it was concluded that the photograph features a dead anteater which visitors see at the entrance to Brazil’s Emas National Park.
“The five scientists, working independently of each other, all concluded there are elements of the animal’s posture, morphology, raised tufts of fur and patterns on the neck and head that are too similar for the images to show two different animals,” said a spokesperson for the museum.
The investigation followed an tip-off from a third party that the photograph, entitled The Night Raider, broke competition rules that demand “entries must not deceive the viewer or attempt to misrepresent the reality of nature”.
Cabral, who strongly denies he used a stuffed animal in the image, claimed in his original submission that he had spent three years waiting for the right conditions to capture the glowing termite mounds.
According to his original caption, the photographer spent days frustrated by rain in Emas National Park before a “giant anteater ambled out of the darkness” and stayed “just long enough” for him to take a single photo.
The museum said Cabral cooperated with the investigation and supplied image files taken before and after the winning shot. None of them included the anteater.
According to the museum, Cabral also offered a witness who claims he also saw the animal alive; the investigators were unconvinced.
Roz Kidman Cox, a member of the 2017 judging panel, issued a stern warning to others who submit dubious images in an attempt to win awards: “I find it disheartening and surprising that a photographer would go to such lengths to deceive the competition and its worldwide following.”
“The competition places great store on honesty and integrity, and such a breach of the rules is disrespectful to the wildlife photography community, which is at the heart of the competition.
“This disqualification should remind entrants that any transgression of the rules and spirit of the competition will eventually be found out.”