Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016: Who nabbed top honors?

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This year's photos will be at London's Natural History Museum

The photos highlight big environment debates

CNN  — 

A lone orangutan slowly climbs up a thick tree root in Gunung Palung National Park in Indonesia. Snapped from dizzying heights, this dramatic photograph was captured by American photojournalist Tim Laman, the winner of the 2016 Wildlife Photographer of the Year award.

Laman, who is also a biologist, took the image – entitled “Entwined Lives” – after following the orangutan in Borneo over several days.

“I think that photojournalism can have a big impact in conservation because people don’t really appreciate what is going on until they see it themselves,” said Laman, who took the winning picture during a field trip with his wife, orangutan researcher Cheryl Knott, and her team.

“Pictures are a way that people can learn about the world,” he added.

The photograph was taken remotely by a GoPro, but it was not an easy shot. Laman reportedly spent three days rope-climbing a 30-meter tall tree to set up his small action cameras to capture the orangutan’s journey.

Laman’s image is among a collection of prize winners to go on display in the Natural History Museum of London this week as part of wildlife’s photography’s prestigious global competition, which has been showcasing the very best in nature photography for the last fifty-two years.

One of this edition’s most graphic images comes from the Hong-Kong based photographer UK-Australian Paul Hilton, who grabbed the single image photojournalism award for “The Pangolin Pit.” Hilton’s image denounces the illegal trading markets in China and Vietnam by showing thousands of dead defrosting pangolins ready to be sold.

Pangolins are small rare, scale-covered mammals that have become the world’s most trafficked animals.

“Millions of people will be able to see this picture and hopefully it is going to end up in Beijing where there’s lot of the consumption and trade of pangolins,” said Hilton.

“My picture shows the industrial scale of what is happening to these animals.”

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Hilton found the dead pangolins in a massive warehouse in Medan Sumatra, Indonesia, latter saving 97 of the animals housed in small cages.

“A lot of them were dehydrated,” he explained. “But we managed to get them to a local forest and release them.”

For Michael Dixon, director of the Natural History Museum in London, the objective of the awards is to encourage discussion about society and the environment.

“Can we protect biodiversity? Can we learn to live in harmony with nature? The winning images touch our hearts, and challenge us to think differently about the natural world,” he said.

Besides raising awareness to current environmental issues, one of the aims of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition has been to inspire younger generations to take pictures of the world around them.

This year, the Young Wildlife Photographer award went to 16-year-old Gideon Knight from the UK.

The London teenager entered the competition with the image “The Moon and the Crow,” which shows the silhouette of a crow perched upon tree twigs.

“Crows are often used in folklore, so together with the light of the moon, it really tells a story,” said Knight of the image.

“When I saw the moon rising I thought it would be amazing If I could capture it with my camera – and then when I saw the crow close by I could not believe my luck.”

Indeed, Lewis Blackwell, chair of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year jury, compared the picture to a visual poem.

“If an image could create a poem, it would be like this,” said Blackwell. “The image epitomizes what the judges are always looking for – a fresh observation on our natural world, delivered with artistic flair.

The next Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition will be open for entries from October 24 to December 15, 2016.

CNN’s Florence Davey-Atlee contributed to this report