The best wildlife photos in the world have the power to amaze, inspire and transport us. Join us for a journey into the wild as the 2015 Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition opens in South Africa. 

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, developed and produced by the Natural History Museum in London, launched in the UK in 1965. Today it receives more than 42,000 entries from 96 countries but only the very best images make it to the exhibition.

For nature lovers it’s a unique opportunity to see wildlife through the lens of some of the top photographers in the world. From dainty butterflies in a meadow to a bearded seal bobbing at the surface, the wild creatures are the stars of this show. The exhibition includes incredible aerial photography, underwater images, artistic impressions and action-packed pictures of mammals, birds, reptiles and more.

There are several South Africans among the finalists, and two of them, Wim and Juan van den Heever, are also father and son! As Wild fans know, we live in one of the best places for nature photography.

Wild selected a few of the mesmerising images that will be on show at the exhibition until 15 April 2016 at the Chavonnes Battery Museum at the V&A Waterfront’s Clock Tower in Cape Town. Thereafter the exhibition will travel to Durban and Johannesburg – watch this space.

‘The final leap’

Finalist: Mammals

Wim van den Heever (South Africa) had been following this leopard for three days as it tried to secure a meal. Typically an ambush hunter, he was surprised to see it hunting on the open plains. As this springbok approached, only short grass concealed the sudden attack. “Then to my amazement, it launched itself at the ram with incredible agility and strength,” he recalls. Camera specs: Nikon D4 + 600mm f4 lens; 1/3200 sec at f8; ISO 1000; Badger Door Bracket + Wimberley Gimbal head.

Leopard and Springbok

‘Summer days’

Winner: 10 years and under

Carlos Perez Naval (Spain) loves the colour and songs of bee-eaters. They remind him of long summer holidays spent at his grandmother’s village, where he visits a colony of them. Noticing these birds returning repeatedly to the same perch, Carlos captured this serendipitous shot of two birds with bees in their beaks. Camera specs: Nikon D7100 + 200-400mm f4lens + 1.4x extender at 550mm; 1/1250 sec at f5.6; ISO 500 Tripod Hide.

Wildlife photographer of the year-Carlos Perez Naval

‘Wings of summer’

Finalist: Invertebrates

Among the bustling flower meadow Klaus Tamm’s (Germany) eye caught a pair of black-veined white butterflies, resting either side of a vetch flower. “I was intrigued by the symmetrical shape of this pair against the colourful backdrop,” says Klaus. Using a wide aperture, he blurred the background to frame their delicate mirrored forms with a riot of colour. Camera specs: Nikon D7100 + 200-400mm f4 lens + 1.4x extender at 550mm; 1/1250 sec at f5.6; ISO 500.

Riot of colour

‘Battle of the bee-eaters’

Finalist: 15–17 years old

Two southern carmine bee-eaters fly repeatedly at each other, using their long bills to “joust like fencers with swords,” says Juan van den Heever (South Africa). Juan’s dad, Wim van den Heever, was a finalist in the mammal section (first image above). He challenged himself to capture a close-up of this action before the end of his trip, but “the speed and sheer number of birds was overwhelming”. With determination and a fast shutter speed, he managed it. Camera specs: Nikon D4 + 200-400mm f4 lens; 1/4000 sec at f7.1; ISO 1000.

Wildlife photographer of the year-Juan van den Heever

‘Turtle flight’

Finalist: Amphibians and reptiles

As this hawksbill turtle swam past, David Doubilet (USA) angled his camera to set its amber underside against the rich blue water. His intent was “to connect people with the ocean’s incredible beauty and its silent devastation”. Framed by a backdrop of barracuda and batfish, he used a slow shutter speed to capture this hawksbill soaring through its realm. Camera specs: Nikon D3 + 17-35mm f2.8 lens at 17mm; 1/13 sec at f22; ISO 320; Seacam housing; Sea & Sea YS-250 strobes.

Hawksbill sea turtle soars through a sea filled with barracuda and batfish in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea.

‘The scales of fortune’

Finalist: Mammals

The elusive ground pangolin is the holy grail of safaris, so Tristan Dicks (South Africa) was thrilled to encounter one while out one evening. “I was fascinated by how it walked on its hind legs – much like some dinosaurs,” he says. As the armour-plated creature shuffled past, Tristan used a spotlight to highlight its solitude in the darkness. Camera specs: Canon EOS 7D + 70-200mm f2.8 lens; 1/200 sec at f2.8; ISO 400; spotlight.

Wildlife photographer of the year-Tristan Dicks

‘Deep sleeper’

Winner: The Wildlife Photographer of the Year Portfolio Award

A call from a friend’s son told Audun Rikardsen (Norway) of a creature bobbing around in a fjord outside Tromsø. Investigating by boat, he found this bearded seal snoozing at the surface, its distinctive whiskers dried into curls in the midnight sunshine. It seemed surprisingly trusting, taking one brief peek at him before nodding off again. Camera specs: Canon EOS-1D X + Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 lens at 70mm; 1/250 sec at f3.5; ISO 2000; x2 Canon 600 flashes; 3200 lumen LED torch.

Wildlife photographer of the year-Audun Rikardsen

Picture information courtesy of Natural History Museum.