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Specimen of the Month: The Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)

Our Deputy Keeper of Natural History, Dr Emma-Louise Nicholls, gets to know the enigmatic Platypus. 

Our Venomous Piece of the Past

We have a number of platypodes (or platypuses if you prefer, but never platypi), however, this one is part of the original Frederick Horniman Collection. That enigmatic accolade means it must have been acquired by our illustrious founder, and prior to the Museum opening in 1906. So in modern social media speak, it’s well old.

We don’t know what the platypus looked like when it was first acquired by the Museum; it could have been either a skin or a taxidermy mount. Either way, at some time in the past the platypus was ‘re-set’ (wording on record card), by the taxidermist Charles Thorpe, into the swimming position that you can see in the image below. The price for this exquisite demonstration of skill was £0 d7 s6. For those who didn’t suffer through the confusing period of decimalisation, £0 d7 s6 means zero pounds, seven pennies, and six shillings, the value of that price today is around £10 (an exact figure is impossible to calculate on the basis we don’t know what year the work was carried out).

  • Specimen of the Month: The Platypus, Our platypus is over 100 years old, and was given a make-over sometime in the early to mid-1900s
    Our platypus is over 100 years old, and was given a make-over sometime in the early to mid-1900s

We know the specimen is a male as it has a sharp spike, called a spur, on the rear of each thigh. Platypodes* are one of the few mammals that are venomous, and the small amount of venom that can be injected through one of these spurs is potent enough to kill mammals many times their size. I was told by a friend who works in a zoo in Australia that their colleague was once spurred in the arm. Apparently, it was so painful he was pleading with the doctors for his arm to be amputated, ouch! During the mating season the amount of venom a male produces increases, which presumably means one of the main purposes of evolving such potent venom is to fend off rival males and get a girlfriend. In more anthropogenic cases, recent research suggests platypus venom could be used in a treatment for Type 2 diabetes. For which they have frisky platypuses to thank I guess.

They Don’t Have Teeth

Platypodes don’t have teeth in the traditional sense. Their fossil ancestors had teeth but the modern platypus decided the sound of growing their own enamel was reason for concern, and produced coarse keratin pads instead. A mouth full of hair** sounds disgusting, and it only seems to work ‘fairly well’ to boot, as according to a number of sources, platypodes will also scoop up coarse gravel to aid mastication. Perhaps they should have planned it out better before embarking on their otherwise admirable attempt to avoid expensive dental bills.

Platypodes are bottom feeders (legit term), which means animals that feed off of the substrate in aquatic environments. In the case of the platypus, it lives in rivers and uses the receptors in its bill to pick up the electrical signals given off by their prey, which are normally found in the form of insects, insect larvae, worms and shellfish.

  • Specimen of the Month: The Platypus, As platypodes don't have teeth, the keeper was in no danger of being bitten.− © Adrian Good
    As platypodes don't have teeth, the keeper was in no danger of being bitten.

They Do Have Teeth

Platypodes don’t have teeth… I wasn’t lying before. However, platypodes are monotremes which means they lay eggs. One of only two mammals to do so, the other being the echidna. As with more traditional egg breaking youngsters like those belonging to birds and many reptiles, for example, the tiny egg-bound platypus has to break its way out of the egg. For this, its ancestry provided it with an egg-tooth on the top of its bill. This tooth is only a temporary facial addition that, once the baby platypus has broken free of its yolky home, will normally be shed within the next two days. The egg-tooth is not a real tooth as ours are, but a sharp, tooth-shaped structure made of keratin, around 0.3 mm high. That may seem ridiculously small but a freshly hatched platypus is only around the size of a kidney bean so any larger and it would probably get neck ache.

  • Specimen of the Month: The Platypus, These line drawings show the development of the platypus from the day of hatching to five days post-hatching. The egg-tooth can be seen in the first two columns of sketches. The protuberance on the bill in the two right-hand columns represent the caruncle, or fleshy nub, left behind by the egg-tooth. , Image from Manger et al., 1998
    These line drawings show the development of the platypus from the day of hatching to five days post-hatching. The egg-tooth can be seen in the first two columns of sketches. The protuberance on the bill in the two right-hand columns represent the caruncle, or fleshy nub, left behind by the egg-tooth. , Image from Manger et al., 1998

* The more I say it, the more you’ll get used to it
** Keratin is the protein that makes up your hair and fingernails

References

ARKive
Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)

Live Science
Platypus Facts 

Manger, P. R., Hall, L. S., and Pettigrew, J. D. (1998). The development of the external features of the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 353 pp.1115-1125

National Geographic
Platypus 

Project Britain
Old English Money 

Tosatto, D., and Zool, W. S. (2016). Feeding and digestive mechanisms of Obdurodon dicksonii and its implications for the modern Platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus. Unpublished. pp.1-12

Specimen of the Month: the Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus)

Our Deputy Keeper of Natural History, Emma-Louise Nicholls, tells us all about our collared aracari, part of the foundation collection of the Horniman Museum.

Celebrity Status

In most museums, the collections are divided into categories. At the Horniman it is easy, we have Musical Instruments, Anthropology, Natural History, living collections and the Library and Archive. Within those departments are collections which are assigned, for example, by who, where, or perhaps when, they were collected.

The most exciting collections to the average person are probably those of famous people, such as Charles Darwin or Mary Anning. Taking this a step further, someone’s excitement over celebrity status can extend to personal association, such as a specimen that was collected where you grew up, or collected by someone who is from your village/city/country.

The Horniman Museum began as the private collection of Frederick Horniman, who passed away five years after the Museum opened on its current site in 1901. The specimens from his original collection are known as the Frederick Horniman Collection, and are of epic (niche) celebrity status. Not just for their age, but for the connection to Horniman and that they form the foundation of the legacy he left to us. This month’s specimen is one such treasure.

  • Specimen of the Month: the Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus), This pair of collared aracari's are part of the foundation collection of the Horniman Museum which makes them fantastically exciting. Plus, they're beautiful as an added bonus.
    This pair of collared aracari's are part of the foundation collection of the Horniman Museum which makes them fantastically exciting. Plus, they're beautiful as an added bonus.

A Big Home

The collared aracari (ah-rah-sar-ree) (you’re on your own for collared) is also known as the spot breasted aracari. The preferred (natural) habitat is wet or moist forests, though in an ever changing world, the collared aracari also has a postal address in many fruit, cacao and coffee plantations. Well why not, it was there first.

The aracari is a non-migratory species and so live, breed, frolic, and grow old in their home range. This is referred to in the biz as ‘sedentary’. I know a few people who’d be marked as sedentary if they were in a natural history book.

The aracari may not go outside its range, but then it is huge; stretching from southern Mexico, throughout Central America, and down into northern Venezuela and Columbia. Having such a large range, in terms of a wild animal surviving in a world dominated by our anthropocentric attitude, is a good thing.

  • Specimen of the Month: the Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus), I had the great pleasure of running into a collared aracari in Guatemala a few years ago. A convivial chap.− © Emma-Louise Nicholls, 2009
    I had the great pleasure of running into a collared aracari in Guatemala a few years ago. A convivial chap.

Trouble with the Neighbours

I applaud your observational skills if the aracari's bill led you to the (correct) conclusion that it is a member of the toucan family; Ramphastidae. As with all families that live too close together however, there are frequent problems. It seems odd for such a beautiful bird but if the aracari lapses in concentration for a moment and leaves its nest unguarded, the black mandibled toucan (see below) will sneak in and, can you believe it, eat the contents. Your family issues don’t seem so bad now huh.

  • Specimen of the Month: the Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus), Although taxonomically they're in the same family, the black mandibled toucan is big trouble for the collared aracari. − © Brian Ralphs, 2012
    Although taxonomically they're in the same family, the black mandibled toucan is big trouble for the collared aracari.

References

  • BirdLife International (2017).
  • del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. eds. (2002). Handbook of Birds of the World. Volume 2 Jacamars to Woodpeckers. Barcelona, Lynx Edicions pp.127-128.
  • Horniman Museum.

Specimen of the Month: The Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

Our Deputy Keeper of Natural History, Emma-Louise Nicholls, tells us all about the cheetah.

‘Cat. With. Spots’

The image below is of the Horniman’s Accession Register in 1910, when the cheetah was first acquired by the Museum. It reads ‘Hunt.g leopard’. I have a Ph.D in sharks; I am definitely qualified to say that what we have is a cheetah, not a leopard. Wondering whether it could have been a mistake, I started digging into the original taxonomy* and common names of the cheetah and discovered something interesting…

Back in the day when the British were trying to colonise the world and India was temporarily renamed British India, cheetahs were kept in captivity as feline ‘hunting dogs’ by elite members of Indian society. So the hunting part of the name ‘hunting leopard’ makes sense but as Asia also has leopards why they mixed the common names is anyone’s invitation to research. As our cheetah arrived at the Horniman in 1910, when India was yet to kick the British out, I suppose it is reasonable that the specimen was recorded as ‘hunting leopard’ rather than ‘cheetah’, however confusing that was going to be for future Deputy Keepers of Natural History. Tsk.

  • Specimen of the Month: the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), This photocopy of the original Horniman Accession Register from 1910 shows the cheetah specimen listed as a Hunting leopard
    This photocopy of the original Horniman Accession Register from 1910 shows the cheetah specimen listed as a Hunting leopard

So many cheetahs, and so few

Scientists have proposed that the cheetah is split into five different subspecies. However, genetic analyses haven’t yet been used to confirm, or deny, their differences. One fairly confident split is between the Asiatic/Iranian cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus), and the African cheetah, which encompasses all four remaining, potential, subspecies:

Northwest African cheetah (A. j. hecki)

East African cheetah (A. j. fearsoni)

Southern African cheetah (A. j. jubatus)

Northeast African cheetah (A. j. soemmerringi)

(Apologies for the lack of catchy common names. Please feel free to write to the cheetah specialists of the world and demand they get on this immediately.)

Although the Asiatic and African cheetahs have had around 100,000 years to change their appearance and try something new, the two cheetah types still look pretty much identical. Pretty lazy for the fastest land mammal in the world. Just because I know you’re wondering, our specimen hails from South Africa. So until a rigorous genetic test is put in place, which subspecies it is will be anyone’s guess.

  • Specimen of the Month: the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), Is this an Asiatic or an African cheetah? Who knows!
(Probably the photographer does, as it's likely he knew what country he was in when he took the picture...) 
− © Peter Chadwick
    Is this an Asiatic or an African cheetah? Who knows! (Probably the photographer does, as it's likely he knew what country he was in when he took the picture...)

Deadly in life after death

Cheetahs are excellent predators and so it seems fitting then that even in death, our cheetah could still cause serious harm. A few years ago our cheetah specimen was tested for harmful chemicals and traces of arsenic were found on the fur. The taxidermist who prepared the skin (pre-1910, which is when we acquired it) would have used arsenical soap to protect the specimen from pest damage. Arsenic was a common pesticide used in taxidermy from the 1800s up until quite recently when health and safety departments became more health and safety conscious and started testing things more rigorously. Our cheetah poses no threat whatsoever to the public in the gallery, but curators have to wear PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) when handling historic specimens.

  • Specimen of the Month: the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), Our hunting leopard/cheetah is on display in the Natural History Gallery
    Our hunting leopard/cheetah is on display in the Natural History Gallery

*Acinonyx jubatus (see blog title) is the most recent and up to date taxonomic genus and species for the cheetah.

References

ARKive. Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

ARKive. Leopard (Panthera pardus)

Wilson, D. E. and Mittermeier, R. A. (2009). Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Volume 1. Carnivores. Barcelona, Lynx Edicions pp.154-156.

IUCN Red List. Acinonyx jubatus

IUCN Red List. Acinonyx jubatus ssp. hecki

IUCN Red List. Acinonyx jubatus ssp. venaticus.

Mammal Species of the World. Genus Acinonyx

Marte, F., Pé Quignot, A., and Von Endt, D. W. (2006). Arsenic in Taxidermy Collections: History, Detection, and Management. Collection Forum 21 (1-2) pp.143-150

Wildlife photography - your winner

You voted for your favourite photo from our European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition and we reveal the winner...

Our European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition was really popular this winter. 

When coming to see the exhibition, visitors were asked to pick which photo was their favourite and leave their comments on a card. 

It was a close call. All of the photographs received at least one vote from the public and there were only a few votes between the top winners. 

We can now exclusively reveal the top three most popular photographs as chosen by our visitors are...

*atmospheric pause*

In third place, the graceful 'Wild European Lynx' by Laurent Geslin.

  • Wildlife photography - your winner, 'Wild European Lynx', Laurent Geslin
    'Wild European Lynx', Laurent Geslin

Here is what some people said about this photograph:

I was drawn to those big eyes and can just imagine him on his long prowls in the night. 

I really like the way the deep sky is captured in the background and how the photographer spent a long time to capture this. 

The contrast, the composition, the elusiveness of the subject. 

In second place, the characterful 'Lightness' by Matteo Lonati. 

  • Wildlife photography - your winner, 'Lightness', Matteo Lonati
    'Lightness', Matteo Lonati

Here is what some people said about this photograph:

It is simple and yet still beautiful.

I like the way the owl is standing to attention like a soldier.

A very arresting photo.

It looks like Hedwig. 

The winner of the public vote is the excellent 'Shadow Walker' by Richard Peters. 

  • Wildlife photography - your winner, 'Shadow Walker', Richard Peters
    'Shadow Walker', Richard Peters

Here is what some people said about this photograph:

It has a beautiful atmosphere.

It reflects the nature in London.

It says so much about the life of the fox - not in shot, he is the hidden king of the urban jungle. 

Because it captures wildlife in an urban setting and reminds us of its presence and beauty. 

Congratulations Richard for winning the public vote as well as the overall competition. 

You can read more about wildlife photography in our interviews with the photographers from this exhibition on our blog

The Badger at Burgh House

Hello, I’m Becky Lodge the Curator at Burgh House, an historic house with a local history museum, based in Hampstead.

We borrowed the Object in Focus taxidermy badger from the Horniman last year and the staff all became very fond of her. We have no natural history specimens in our own collection, and the badger is super cute.

The badger featured in an exhibition of picture postcards of Hampstead called 'Hello from Hampstead! Discovering a History through Postcards'.

Hampstead is a suburb of London that has been a popular visitor destination for centuries, especially for its vast and famous Heath. Not only is the Heath an incredible place to explore, it is host to a wonderful variety of plants and animals.

The badger helped us to show this, complementing our postcards beautifully.

Working with Sarah and the conservators from the Horniman on the loan was a really enjoyable experience. The whole process was so well managed, it was a delight for our small team. Thanks, Horniman Museum and Gardens!

Find out more about our Object in Focus loans project. 

Discover more from Burgh House on their website or connect with them on Facebook and Twitter

Wildlife photography - your views

Our European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition has been very popular this winter, with people of all ages coming to see the 84 extraordinary photographs on display. 

Visitors to the exhibition were invited to fill out a card where they voted for their favourite photo and gave a reason why. 

Next week we will be announcing who came first, second and third in our visitor vote, but until then, here are some of our favourite responses so far: 

  • Wildlife photography - your views, 'Dragon Duel', Tom Way
    'Dragon Duel', Tom Way

It is brutal, other worldly, ancient, timeless. Somehow both alien and godlike. 

  • Wildlife photography - your views, 'Lion Love in the Rain', Jon Langeland
    'Lion Love in the Rain', Jon Langeland

The photographer has really captured the lioness's expression and the way the water is spraying is excellent.

  • Wildlife photography - your views, 'Wink', Ingo Arndt
    'Wink', Ingo Arndt

Extremely flirtatious and seductive, like a Spanish dancer or the seducing dance of tango. 

  • Wildlife photography - your views, 'Like from a Fairy tale', Giuseppe Bonali
    'Like from a Fairy tale', Giuseppe Bonali

A magical look into a micro world

  • Wildlife photography - your views, 'Under the water, above the water', Mike Korostelev
    'Under the water, above the water', Mike Korostelev

It tells a story in a really inventive way. Being upside down makes it magical, compelling, mysterious and majestic!

  • Wildlife photography - your views, 'Alien Sighting', David Burtuleit
    'Alien Sighting', David Burtuleit

Sometimes the things on our doorstep can be the most interesting. 

  • Wildlife photography - your views, 'Shadow Walker', Richard Peters
    'Shadow Walker', Richard Peters

It connects you somehow with a night story happening next to you that you don't know about. It's just outside. 

  • Wildlife photography - your views, 'Surprised Newt', Pekka Tuuri
    'Surprised Newt', Pekka Tuuri

There are many amazing photos in this exhibition. This one is my favourite because it is a common animal in an amazing situation and it is the only animal with a mohican hairstyle. 

Read our series of interviews with the photogrpahers from this exhibition on our blog

Send us your own wildlife photography by tagging your photos #horniman on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. 

About the Art: Marco Urso

As part of our European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, we chat to Marco Urso about his wildlife photography. 

  • About the Art: Marco Urso, 'Missed', Marco Urso
    'Missed', Marco Urso

Tell us the story behind your photo 'Missed'.

Every summer for the last five years, I have spent time at Kuril Lake in Kamchatka. Year after year my idea is to concentrate my photography on uncommon situations. These only occur when you follow a bear around and watch him in his daily life.

The bear in this photograph was a young one and therefore inexperienced. He caught the salmon but relaxed soon afterwards. The salmon 'felt' that and managed to escape, leaving the bear with a strange expression.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

Quite a bit, I have seen something similar before but I wanted the salmon parallel to the surface of the water so I tried for almost a day.

Did you use any particular equipment?

Not really, a tripod and my normal 500 mm lens.

What are the difficulties of wildlife photography you face?

The challenges are several. Weather, technical equipment problems and recently the misbehaviour of some photographers that forget they have to respect the environment and the species.

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

That I was looking for something different, unusual and less stereotyped. I often try to show the feeling and personality in animals’ behaviour.

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started in your career?

I have been photographing since the age of 14 but only seriously since 2010. I started publishing for magazines, writing articles, organising workshop and participating in competitions.

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife in their local environment?

That there is a lot to see and take pictures of without travelling a great distance. It is important to have self-assessment, so there is discipline and a selected view.

What projects are you working on now?

I like bears both browns and polar. I like to photograph their interaction and the cubs. I have just published a book on Polar Bear with WWF: the Lord of the Arctic and soon there will be a second book about the brown bear.

See more of Marco's work on his website and see 'Missed' on display at the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition until 15 January 2017. 

About the Art: Tom Way

As part of our European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, we chat to Tom Way about his wildlife photography. 

  • About the Art: Tom Way, 'Dragon Duel', Tom Way
    'Dragon Duel', Tom Way

Tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition

To photograph the largest lizard on the planet is a challenge in itself.

Not only is Komodo National Park difficult to access but getting close enough to the animals can be extremely dangerous. Komodo dragons weigh up to 150kg and have venom and carry fatal bacteria in their bite.

I wanted to try and take close-up portraits of the dragons, so we drifted silently in a small Zodiac boat towards two resting on the shoreline of Rinca Island. The only sound was that of the lapping waves against the beach and the buzz of cicada in the trees. Suddenly there was an explosive whip of the tale as the dragons reared themselves on their back legs clashing together. I wanted to frame the action as large as I could in the frame to show the detail of the skin and to highlight the sand blast against the dark background. There was something extremely prehistoric about this titanic battle as the claws grated against the scales. I felt like it was a snap shot back into a bygone age.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

I was in Komodo National Park for 3 days.

Did you use any particular equipment?

Canon EOS-1d X, 500mm, 1/3200 sec at f4; ISO 320

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

Typically when photographing large mammals, I am looking to portray the beauty, power and majesty of these wonderful animals.

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started in your career?

I have been a professional wildlife photographer for five years. My passion began whilst travelling after university and wanting to document what I was seeing in the most aesthetic way possible. I decided that with both my passion for wildlife and travel a career as a wildlife photographer would be perfect. After leaving my job, I have spent the last five years building a business in this industry.

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife in their local environment?

I would advise that they would need to both spend time with the subject and learn the lay of the land. In this way, you can foresee where the light focuses at certain times of day and also where the subject is likely to be. By knowing your subject well, you are more likely to photograph unusual behaviour.

What have you been up to since the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 competition? What projects are you working on now?

Since the 2015 competition, I have been working mostly in East Africa photographing both Lions and Elephants. As a result, I was very pleased to have one of my images awarded in the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016.

What are your favourite scenes to photograph?

I enjoy photographing in scenes of pure simplicity with no tension points. The open savannahs of East Africa appeal to me as I can separate my subject from the background with ease.

See more of Tom's work on his website and see 'Dragon Duel' on display at the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition until 15 January 2017. 

About the Art: Heike Odermatt

As part of our European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, we chat to Heike Odermatt about her work and her photograph, 'New Life'.

  • About the Art: Heike Odermatt, Patiently waiting for the walrus to do something in Svalbard, Heike Odermatt
    Patiently waiting for the walrus to do something in Svalbard, Heike Odermatt

Tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition.

One life has ended and another life arises. In July 2010, there was a big wildfire in the natural heathland – the ‘Strabrechtse Heide’ – in the Netherlands. It affected about 200 hectares of forest and heath, over 10% of the total area. It took several days to master the fire and over a week to put it out completely.

Two years later, I went there to look how the nature has recovered. In the severely affected area, new life was emerging including plants such as young heather, pine, Senecio and pionieer plants such as various types of grasses and fireweed.

I visited this area for several times. During my last visit, I found this place with beautiful grey dead heather and I went in search of a new life and some colour among it. In this photograph, you can see a young pine sheltered by the heath plants which died during the wildfire.

The idea of the photograph was to focus on life and death, old and new. An area destroyed by fire where life seemed extinguished but where new life arises.

  • About the Art: Heike Odermatt, 'New Life', Heike Odermatt
    'New Life', Heike Odermatt

Did you use any particular equipment?

This picture was taken without a tripod because there was enough light to easily frame the image. I didn’t want to damage or change the shape of any part of the plant with the legs of the tripod.

What are the difficulties of wildlife photography you face?

Too many humans and buildings.

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

I like that people get inspired from my images and so also in nature. I want to bring the beauty of nature closer to humans and make them more sensitive to it. I want people to fall in love with nature so they understand how much we need living things and need to be careful with them.

  • About the Art: Heike Odermatt, Northern Gannet on Helgoland (Germany) during the last light. With an exposure of 1/8 seconds I was able to depict the movement of this landing bird, Heike Odermatt
    Northern Gannet on Helgoland (Germany) during the last light. With an exposure of 1/8 seconds I was able to depict the movement of this landing bird, Heike Odermatt

  • About the Art: Heike Odermatt, Sleeping King Penguin on the Falkland Islands. I played with the colour and sharpness to create a more abstract image from the colourful markings of the penguins, Heike Odermatt
    Sleeping King Penguin on the Falkland Islands. I played with the colour and sharpness to create a more abstract image from the colourful markings of the penguins, Heike Odermatt

  • About the Art: Heike Odermatt, I love it when autumn and winter touch each other, like here in a moor in the Vosges., Heike Odermatt
    I love it when autumn and winter touch each other, like here in a moor in the Vosges., Heike Odermatt

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started in your career?

As a child I was fond of pictures, especially pictures of animals and nature. I dreamed of being the person behind the camera, creating those beautiful pictures of wild animals and stunning landscapes.
I had never dared to dream that this would become a reality.

  • About the Art: Heike Odermatt, I shot this image of the Gullfoss waterfall during my first visit to Iceland in the winter in 2004. It was a rainy day and all was green. It looks like a fairy tail., Heike Odermatt
    I shot this image of the Gullfoss waterfall during my first visit to Iceland in the winter in 2004. It was a rainy day and all was green. It looks like a fairy tail., Heike Odermatt

It was years later that I had the opportunity to emerge myself into photography. In 2002, I started to work in nature photography. I was photographing in my holidays – trips that I took purely for nature photography. In my daily life I barely had a chance to go out. Lately though, a lot has changed in my life and I hope that nature photography will be a major part of my life in the future.

  • About the Art: Heike Odermatt, The slope of a mountain with snow and the interplay of light and shadow creates an abstract image. I found this detail during my trip to Svalbard., Heike Odermatt
    The slope of a mountain with snow and the interplay of light and shadow creates an abstract image. I found this detail during my trip to Svalbard., Heike Odermatt

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife in their local environment?

Photograph with an open mind and be passionate. Dare to experiment. Use your heart and your eye to create your images. It is up to us to deal with nature in a fair and responsible manner.

  • About the Art: Heike Odermatt, Photoshoot with curious wild Konik horses in the Netherlands. This picture shows my two passions: horses and Nature Photography., Heike Odermatt
    Photoshoot with curious wild Konik horses in the Netherlands. This picture shows my two passions: horses and Nature Photography., Heike Odermatt

What are your favourite scenes to photograph?

My favourite scenes are the rough landscapes of the North. Mountains, snow and ice and the animals of these environments. For my next project, I will go to the arctic regions again.

See more of Heike's work on her website and see her photograph, 'New Life', on display at the Horniman until 15 January. 

Send us photos of your local wildlife on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #horniman

About the Art: Juan Carlos Muñoz

Our European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is running until 15 January. We spoke to photographer Juan Carlos Muñoz about his passion for wildlife photography.

Tell us the story behind your winning photograph ‘Fishing in the Evening in the Hula Valley’.

This photo is based on a beautiful story about wetland conservation as an important stage for birds crossing Israel in their migratory flights between northern territories of Europe and Asia and Africa.

The collaboration between Hula Valley conservationist non-governmental organisations and fish farms plays a crucial role for offering resting sites to birds.

Sighting during an afternoon among fish farm ponds, I was attracted not by the huge concentration of birds resting nearby the water but for a quiet pool with remaining small ponds at its bottom due to fish movement. The light was gorgeous, shining on them and giving a golden ambiance to the moment. The concentration of a black-winged stilt fishing among them gave me the shot.

  • Juan Carlos Muñoz Fishing in the Evening in Hula Valley, Fishing in the Evening in Hula Valley, Juan Carlos Munoz
    Fishing in the Evening in Hula Valley, Juan Carlos Munoz

How did you go about getting that shot?

When I saw the circles pattern with such beautiful natural light I made my decision of getting something special of the site. The continuous motion of the bird wandering among the ponds gave me the chance of waiting for a good position of the bird for doing what I love the most on nature photography: catching surprising moments in wilderness.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

It was a sort time because of the fading sun on the pond’s surface.

What sort of camera and lens did you use?

I used a camera Canon 7D equipped with a lens 70-300 mm.

What are the difficulties of wildlife photography you face?

Mostly to reach the site where is possible to shoot wildlife.

Sometimes you have to travel far away to get good pics. In Europe there are a lot of restrictions for taking photos of wild animals in nature and to get all the permissions in these rules could be a nightmare and a long stage. Also, this kind of photos require a more sophisticated equipment: heavy to carry, expensive and most difficult to manage in the wilderness.

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

Through my passion and effort I want to show that most important to me is a commitment with nature and its conservation. So showing the astonishing wildlife of the Earth I hope to engage more and more people to recognise the essential importance of nature for us.

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started in your career?

Since I had my university degree in Biology I went for using photography as a vehicle for being close to my passion, nature. However since my childhood wilderness was the best place in the world for me and I spent long time in nature.

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife in their local environment?

First off, to learn about the local environments natural process, deals of conservation and challenges to keep it untouched. Knowing and respecting the environment and spending more time in contact with nature is the way to be experienced about wildlife behaviour.

What have you been up to since the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 competition? What projects are you working on now?

I am engaged with conservation projects for the return of emblematic species as the Iberian lynx and bearded vulture in Spain. With my photo stories I am helping to protect more territories to be included at the Natura 2000 network.

I support international non-governmental organisations devoted to conservation issues. I work for Rewilding Europe shooting some of the areas included in this European project. Due to the interest of my photo travels I started to organise personalised trips to the most exciting hot spots of worldwide nature.

What are your favourite scenes to photograph?

I feel confident in wilderness, so I go for every scene. However I prefer natural ambiance with wildlife, it is the best way to show a habitat in an attractive and emotional manner.

Because just touching emotions we will engage humankind in preservation of nature.

You can see this photograph in the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition until the 15 January 2017 and you can find more of Jaun's photography on his website.

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