City-based photographer and conservationist Nayan Khanolkar has won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award in the Urban Wildlife category, in a contest organised by the Natural History Museum, London and BBC Wildlife, regarded as the most prestigious in the world. Mr. Khanolkar’s photograph, ‘The Alley Cat’, was taken in the Aarey Milk Colony, on the fringe of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP).
The winning photograph highlights the co-existence between leopards and the Warli tribe living in the national park. Mr. Khanolkar was determined to debunk the image of the snarling beast. His photograph shows a lone leopard walking down a quiet lane, showing how the wild cat is accepted as part of the lives of the locals. “I wanted the leopard to be an integrated part of the urban environment,” Mr. Khanolkar said from London, where he has gone to receive the award. He believes that putting a stop to relocating leopards solved the conflict in several areas of the city. “I wanted to convey that if co-existence with predators is possible in the centre of a metropolis, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be possible anywhere else in the world,” he said. He found it challenging to convince the locals that the project was aimed at mitigating human-leopard conflict. “I’m happy because this message will now reach a wider audience,” he said.
Mr. Khanolkar’s interest in documenting the man-leopard conflict began in 2011 when he saw photographs of a leopard being burnt near Corbett Tiger Reserve. After a year of research on the movement of leopards in several protected areas of the national park, he set up a ‘camera trap’ (where the camera’s shutter is triggered by movement within its focus area) at a particular spot. It took four months to get the desired image. The location was near a house where a boy was attacked by a leopard in 2012. “When I met the father back then, he told me, ‘We know our leopards well, and the one that attacked him was an outsider’.”
Another Indian photographer, Ganesh H. Shankar, also won the award in the Birds’ category for ‘Eviction Attempt’, which captured an Indian rose-ringed parakeet combating a Bengal monitor lizard over a nesting hole. American photojournalist Tim Laman was declared the overall winner of the competition.
The winning images will go on display at the Natural History Museum, London and on the BBC website.