Fierce Competition: The Best Animal Photos of the Year

A mother cheetah teachers her cubs to hunt. A macaque monkey enjoys a hot bath. The London Natural History Museum has named the winners of its "Wildlife Photographer of the Year" competition. Here are some of the best photos.

The title "Wildlife Photographer of the Year" is among the most prestigious distinctions for nature photographers. The competition, which has been organized by the London Natural History Museum and the BBC for 48 years, always attracts spectacular submissions.

To win, a photographer must exercise patience, athleticism and finesse. The Spanish photographer Cristobal Serrano observed a school of fish for two days, waiting to capture it with a diving cormorant as a focal point. Another photographer hung out an airplane to record hundreds of flamingos dancing in sync across the mouth of a river.

A little bit of luck goes a long way, too. One photographer stumbled upon a polar bear at 4 a.m. between Norway and the North Pole to snap it finding its way from one ice floe to the next.

Photographers compete in 11 categories -- groupings like "Behavior: Mammals" and "Behavior: Cold-Blooded Animals" -- and for four special prices. Around 10,000 photographs come in every year, according to the event organizers. The submissions are judged by an international expert jury.

The message behind the photographs is also important, with one category honoring shots of endangered species. A winning image this year shows a female rhinoceros without a horn, which had been cut off of her head four months earlier by poachers. Last year, a Spanish photographer won with a picture from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

But the competition generated negative headlines in 2010, when the jury had to revoke a prize awarded to Spanish photographer José Luis Rodriguez. His winning photo of a wolf jumping over a fence turned out to be a fake.

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