Brazilian photographer, Marcio Cabral, has been disqualified from the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, after an investigation revealed his winning photo featured a taxidermy anteater.
Cabral swears he’s innocent, and further online analysis of his photo has earned him many supporters.
Cabral won the 2017 Animals in Their Environment category for his photo, The Night Raider, which shows an anteater perched up on a glowing termite mound, lit up by the night sky as well as bio-luminescent beetle larvae.
Organisers of the wildlife contest, run by the UK’s Natural History Museum, were informed that the anteater in Cabral’s photo was identical to a stuffed creature on display at the entrance of the national park where the photo was captured.
Cabral apparently camped out in Brazil’s Cerrado region for three seasons, waiting to capture the light show at the termite mounds at Emas National Park.
The photo caption claimed that ‘out of the darkness ambled a giant anteater, oblivious of Marcio in his hide, and began to attack the tall, concrete-mud mound with its powerful claws to reach the termites deep inside’.
But the Natural History Museum has declared this to be misleading. After having no fewer than five scientists independently investigate the photo, the unanimous conclusion was that Cabral pinched the taxidermy anteater and used it as a prop in his photo. He was been stripped of his award, and banned for life from entering the contest.
If anyone can identify a stuffed creature, it’s this investigation team. It included two mammal experts, a taxidermy specialist from the museum, and two external experts – a South American mammal expert and an anteater researcher. While the team are expert in appropriate fields, it’s interesting no imaging specialists were recruited.
‘The five scientists… all reached the same conclusion that there are elements in overall posture, morphology, the position of raised tufts of fur and in the patterning on the neck and the top of the head that are too similar for the images to depict two different animals. The experts would have expected some variation between two individuals of the same species.’
Cabral complied with the investigation by supplying the original RAW image file, which revealed the anteater wasn’t Photoshopped into the image.
‘The recent Wildlife Photographer of the Year disqualification was not due to the image being “Photoshopped in”,’ a NHM spokesperson told Petapixel. ‘Digital manipulation had nothing to do with the disqualification and the RAW file of the entry was examined for excessive manipulation and cleared during judging in April 2017.’
Cabral had no other photos of the anteater, and claims that’s because he used a 30 second long exposure with ISO 5000, and a flash to light the ant eater. The animal left after his shot, leaving no trace but the one photo, Cabral reckons. He also supplied a witness who backed up his story.
The museum notes that the taxidermy specimen is on open display and isn’t fixed to the ground, making it relatively easy to borrow it for a photo shoot and return it without notice.
Is Cabral wrongfully accused?
At a glance the two anteaters appear identical, however Petapixel points out there’s minor differences between the animals.
There’s fur colour patches that are different, such as on the front leg, as well as variations in posture, including a front paw which is only visible in Cabral’s photo.
It’s possible the comparison photos have differences in gear, composition, lighting and other settings that cause the minor distortions. The museum is sticking by its scientists.
Petapixel conducted two reader polls that have turned different results.
The first poll, which appeared in the original announcement, had 41 percent of 4013 readers side with the museum, while 17 percent said they are different anteaters. The remaining were unsure, with another 17 percent saying ‘maybe’ and 23 percent saying ‘it’s hard to say’.
But after the Petapixel analysis, the consensus of almost 4700 readers believes Cabral is innocent.
At the time of writing, 27 percent say Cabral ‘definitely didn’t’ pinch the taxidermy anteater, 36 percent said he ‘likely didn’t’, 22 percent are unsure, seven percent say he ‘likely did’, and only 6 percent believe he still did.
So who is right, the armchair internet experts or five qualified experts?