The Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year has been stripped of his £10,000 title after judges said they suspected that the winning photograph featured a ‘trained’ animal.
Spanish photographer José Luis Rodriguez had entered a photo of an ‘Iberian wolf’ jumping over a gate.
But the competition’s strict rules ban model animals from featuring in submitted photos.
The Natural History Museum, which helps organise the competition with BBC Wildlife Magazine, today confirmed that Rodriguez has been disqualified.
As a result there will be no winner of the 2009 title.
Rodriguez denies that he used a ‘model wolf’.
A spokeswoman for the Natural History Museum said organisers were saddened by the outcome of their investigation: ‘The judging panel was reconvened and concluded that it was likely that the wolf featured in the image was an animal model that can be hired for photographic purposes and, as a result, that the image had been entered in breach of Rule 10 of the competition.’
She added: ‘The judging panel looked at a range of evidence and took specialist advice from panel judges who have extensive experience of photographing wildlife including wolves. They also considered the responses to specific questions put to the photographer, José Luis Rodriguez.’
It is understood that the picture, entitled ‘Storybook Wolf’, was captured using a specially set up camera trap. The animal would have triggered the shutter by crossing an infrared beam.
Commenting on the controversy, wildlife photographer Andy Rouse told Amateur Photographer (AP): ‘The fall out from this scandal will continue for a long time and will ultimately affect the photographer, the competition and the reputation of wildlife photographers in general.’
In an exclusive article for the AP Rouse added: ‘To my knowledge no image has even been taken like this of the Iberian Wolf. It is an incredibly rare and shy animal, avoiding human contact at all costs and highly suspicious [of humans] due to years of persecution in its homeland.
‘To get this close, to get the lighting so perfect and the timing so exquisite was just incredible and I was slightly in awe of the photographer.’
José Luis Rodriguez, who lives in Spain, could not be reached for comment despite numerous emails and phone calls to his office.
His son told us that the photographer was currently on assignment in Madeira where he has been photographing ‘marine birds’.
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year is billed as the world’s most prestigious photography competition of its kind.
The 2009 awards pulled in a record 43,135 entries from 94 countries.
Organisers told AP that it would be unfair to choose a new winner as the competition judging process is ‘blind’.
The museum spokeswoman said: ‘As the photographers are now known, as well as all the details about the images, it would be impossible to make an objective choice of an overall winner and it would be unfair to all the photographers who entered the competition.’
Picture: AP’s coverage of the awards, the results of which were announced in October. Spanish photographer José Luis Rodriguez had entered a photo of an ‘Iberian wolf’ jumping over a gate.