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Stroll through the wild at the Royal Ontario Museum

TORONTO – “We are all wildlife photographers. We are all connected to nature,” are the sentences greeting visitors to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit currently running until March 20 in Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum.

Russia’s Sergey Gorshkov knows this firsthand. After scouring desert dunes in northern Namibia, searching for a gemsbok to photograph, he found nothing but dead ones. But when standing all alone, atop a dune, amid a sea of sand, a live gemsbok was spotted, it would be still and visible for mere seconds in which Gorshkov was able to capture the stunning image called Desert Survivor.

Now in its 51st year, “this is the oldest, most prestigious wildlife photography competition in the world,” Dave Ireland, the museum’s managing director for biodiversity said. The exhibit hails from London, England’s Natural History Museum, where six judges choose 100 images from more than 42,000 entries.

Each image is part of one of 13 categories. The winner in the Reptiles and Amphibians section is called “Still Life of a Salamander,” taken by the Netherlands’ Edwin Giesbers, Ireland said.

He said the photographer “got in a wetsuit, took a picture of salamander lying on the surface of a pond, from below the salamander’s body with a $300 point and shoot camera.” He noted that “Turtle Flight,” taken by the David Doubilet of the United States, with a more expensive, professional camera, while still outstanding, did not quite capture the judge’s vision of a winner, as did the salamander lying on a pond’s surface.

“This is one of the few international photography competitions in which youth are encouraged to participate,” Ireland said while showing the 10 Years and Under group and Alberta’s Josiah Launstein’s “Goose Attack,” capturing two males fighting over territory. Josiah’s “Snowy Scene” shows a snowy owl perched on a fence post, no doubt resting from the day’s hunt, as unlike most owls, the snowy finds its food during daylight.

“Broken Cats” is the wildlife photojournalist award winner. Taken by Germany’s Britta Jaschinski, the photo shows two tigers and a lion whose teeth have been pulled and their claws removed, sitting on stools with trainers alongside, from a Chinese road show circus.

The year’s overall winner presents a picture of nature perhaps not at its prettiest, for in “A Tale Of Two Foxes,” with its teeth and claws fully intact, a red fox attacks, kills and eats an arctic fox. It was taken in Churchill, Manitoba, by Canada’s Don Gutoski, who spent three hours chronicling the conquest.

“It’s the most viewed online wildlife photograph in the world,” Ireland said, “because it so rare to see these two species in the same area.” He said the red fox’s movement north is attributed to climate change.

There are several images of what one could call nature’s darker side. For “The Final Leap,” South Africa’s Wim Van Den Heever followed a leopard in Namibia searching for a meal for three days, before finally attacking a springbok. “Komodo Judo” portrays two Komodo dragons taking each other on in Komodo National Park in Indonesia, taken by Russia’s Andrey Gudkov. And “Head-Strong Hellbenders,” taken by David Herasimtschuk of the United States, depicts two males, head to head in a North Carolina breeding ground, as after spawning males fight to defend eggs from predators and other hellbenders.

If you go

The Royal Ontario Museum is on the southwest corner of Bloor Street West and Queen’s Park Avenue.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday.

Admission: Adults – $17; students ages 15 to 25 – $15.50; seniors 65 and older – $15.50; children ages 4 to 14 – $14; 3 and under, free.

There is an additional $3 to $7 charge for admission to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.