The initial release of images from the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition have perfectly captured some of the most incredible moments ever encountered in the wild.

From a raccoon poking her head out of a 1970s Ford Pinto on a deserted farm in Canada, to a baby hippo tragically being killed by a raging bull, the images make clear the harsh realities of a life in the wild.

Over 48,000 entries were placed from approximately 100 countries and judges have recently came out with the initial release of ‘Highly Commended’ photos ranging through a wide variety of categories.

Peter Haygarth

A photo from the Behaviour: Mammals category showed a lone male cheetah being confronted by a pack of African wild dogs. Photographer Peter Haygarth had been following the dogs by vehicle in Zimanga Private Game Reserve, South Africa, when they came across the big cat.

Although the pack was wary at first, they became more confident and began to circle and mock the cat, who eventually managed to flee after a few minutes.

Another entry, in the same category, captured the moment a Gentoo penguin – the fastest underwater swimmer of all penguins – ran for its life as a leopard seal burst out of the water in an attempt to make a meal out of the penguin.

Eduardo Del Álamo, the photographer, expected the confrontation after having spotted the leopard seal swimming off the Antarctic Peninsula coast near to where the penguin rested.

Eduardo Del Álamo

Just moments later, the seal leapt out of the water causing the penguin to frantically flee into the water. The seal kept in pursuit for more than 15 minutes before finally catching and eating the unlucky Gentoo.

Perhaps the most gut-wrenching of all the images was taken by Adrian Hirschi and shows a newborn hippo in the jaws of an adult male. The baby was keeping close to its mother in the shallows of Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe, when a large bull made a beeline for them, according to The Guardian.

The bull chased the mother off before taking the calf in his mouth while the distraught mother looked on. Although infanticide among hippos is rare, it sometimes results from the stress caused through overcrowding.

Adrian Hirschi
Jason Bantle

On a more lighthearted note, another image showed a raccoon poking her head out of a hole in car in Saskatchewan, Canada, while her five kits were playing in the back seat. Photographer Jason Bantle said he had been waiting for a chance like this every summer for several years.

With access to the car only possible through the small hole in the cracked windscreen, and the fact that the hole is too narrow for predators such as coyotes to fit through, the abandoned vehicle was an ideal place for the mother raccoon to raise her family.

Other photographs showed a Weddell seal dozing off into a deep sleep in South Georgia, a curious grey whale approaching a pair of hands reaching out of a tourist boat, and a sea turtle lying dead next to a washed-up beach chair with a noose around its neck.

Ralf Schneider
Thomas P Peschak
Matthew Ware

In a statement provided to IFLScience, the Natural History Museum said:

The Natural History Museum’s acclaimed Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition and exhibition ignites curiosity about the natural world by showcasing Earth’s extraordinary diversity and highlighting the fragility of wildlife on our planet.

Using the unique emotive power of photography, the competition inspires people to think differently about their relationship with nature and become advocates for the planet.

Winners of the competition will be announced on October 15. The exhibition runs from October 18, 2019 to May 31, 2020 at the Natural History Museum, London.