A moment of tenderness or something more sinister?
The image appears to show a bonobo cuddling a small mongoose as a valuable pet. But instead, maybe the monkey brought the mongoose baby to dinner after killing its mother.
But that would be unusual: Bonobos eat mostly fruit and hunt only occasionally.
The intriguing behavior was photographed by Christian Ziegler in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
His charming photo was selected as a highly praised image in the Natural History Museum’s 58th Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPY) competition.
The shortlist was revealed on Thursday and the overall winners will be announced at London’s Natural History Museum (NHM) in October.
Christian had followed the group of bonobos “chest-deep through flooded forest” in Salonga National Park for days when he saw the young male holding a juvenile mongoose.
“I was so surprised to see how he carried the mongoose with such care. I immediately started following him and documenting him,” he told BBC News.
The monkey held and stroked the little mongoose for over an hour, he said.
But he may have planned on eating it. When bonobos catch prey, they don’t kill it immediately, but start eating while it’s still alive, according to Dr. Barbara Fruth, director of the LuiKotale Bonobo Project who has been observing these animals for over 20 years.
But occasionally, if the dinner is too large and the monkey fills up, it will treat the remaining living prey as pets. Usually, these animals are subsequently eaten.
Dr Fruth believes this is likely what was happening in the photo.
Emphasize that bonobos are known for their gentle, empathetic, and peaceful natures.
“We know from captivity that bonobos care for individuals other than their own species,” he says. In the wild, a bonobo is unlikely to care for another species as a long-term pet, she adds.
But it does not rule out the idea that monkeys keep other animals as accessories to attract the interest of the other members of the group and thus increase their status.
Eventually, this mongoose had a happy ending: the bonobo eventually released its “pet”, which then came out unscathed.
The mystery behind the photo is part of its attraction to the Natural History Museum contest judges.
Natural History Museum senior researcher Dr. Natalie Cooper narrowed down nearly 40,000 entries across 20 categories with her fellow judges. “We’re looking for technically, really brilliant images, the ones you see once and wake up in the morning still thinking,” she says.
WPY has become one of the most prestigious competitions of its kind. For this year’s event, submissions were received from 93 countries.
The winners of the category and the Grand Prize will be announced during a ceremony at the Natural History Museum on 11 October. The museum will then open its annual exhibition of the best photos on October 14.
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In Richard Robson’s image, he and his camera have become the object of the charm of this young southern right whale. The encounter lasted 30 minutes, with the whale circling around him, swimming away and then returning for another look.
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Discussing the image, Dr. Natalie Cooper said, “We can talk about climate change until we’re blue in the face, but until you see the reality of the problem on the screen in front of you, it’s hard to connect with that topic.” .
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Category – Portraits of animals
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Category – Behavior: Amphibians and Reptiles
The Snow Deer by Joshua Cox, age 8, UK
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Category – 10 years and under
You can see highly praised photographs from all categories on the Natural History Museum website.