Best Nature Photos: 2013 Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition Winners

A portrait of African elephants took home top honors in this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition. The winners of this year's competition were announced this week at a gala awards ceremony at London's Natural History museum. We take a look at 9 of the best photos. "Elephants of Essence" by South African photographer Greg de Toit beat out almost 43,000 entries to make him the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013. This image was taken at a watering hole in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in Botswana. "For many years," he said in press material from the Natural History Museum. "I've wanted to create an image that captures their special energy and the state of consciousness that I sense when I'm with them. This image comes closest to doing that." The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition serves as a way to "promote the discovery, understanding, and responsible enjoyment of the natural world," according to the Natural History Museum. The competition is now in its 49th year and is co-owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC. Entries can be submitted by amateur and professional photographers. The competition is judged by a panel of international industry-recognized professionals. An exhibition featuring "Essence of Elephants" and other works will open at the Natural History Museum on Oct. 18. Essence of Elephants (South Africa) Greg du Toit/ Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 Winner: Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Mother's Little Headful (India) Udayan Rao Pawar/ Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 Winner: Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year Pawar, 14, camped near a nesting colony of gharials on the banks of the Chambal River. He hid behind some rocks next to the babies and watched the chief female of the group looking after all the hatchlings. "I could hear them making little grunting sounds," said Pawar. "Very soon a large female surfaced near the shore, checking on her charges. Some of the hatchlings swam to her and climbed onto her head. Perhaps it made them feel safe."
The Spat (USA) Joe McDonald/ Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 Winner: Behaviour: Mammals McDonald took this shot from a boat on the Three Brothers River in Brazil. This female jaguar had just emerged from the undergrowth for a drink. She was lying on the sand when the male approached her. According to McDonald, she sprang up and then suddenly charged and slammed the male back. He said the pair returned to the undergrowth to resume their courtship after those intense three seconds.
The Water Bear (USA) Paul Souders/ Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 Winner: Animals in Their Environment Souders scouted for three days in Hudson Bay, Canada, before he spotted this young female polar bear on sea ice. He said he approached her slowly and drifted — like playing a game of cat-and-mouse. "There was just a flat, world of water and ice and this polar bear swimming lazily around me. I could hear her slow, regular breathing as she watched me below the surface or the exhalation as she surfaced, increasingly curious. It was very special," he said.
Snow Moment (The Netherlands) Jasper Doest/ Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 Winner: Creative Visions Doest said luck was a requirement for this shot. He was fascinated with the surreal effects created by the arrival of a cold wind around the hot springs of Jigokudani in central Japan. He wanted a photo of the swirling steam and snowflakes, and waited a year for this shot. "As it kept snowing, I stood there, willing the wind to pick up. I felt it just had to happen – sometimes you can push your luck if I you just wait long enough," he said.
Dive Buddy (Mexico) Luis Javier Sandoval/ Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 WINNER: Behaviour: Cold-blooded Animals The beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, are traditional nesting sites for the endangered green turtle. Sandoval said the turtles are used to seeing people in the water. "This metre-long female, grazing on seagrass, took no notice of me, apart from glancing up briefly," he said.
Sticky Situation (South Africa) Isak Pretorius/ Wildlife Photographer of the Year Winner: Behaviour: Birds The lesser noddies often get caught in the webs of the red-legged golden orb-web spider when they head for land to breed. The webs are formed from an extremely strong silk that will clog up the feathers of trapped birds, making them unable to fly. This noddy was exhausted and "totally still, its fragile wing so fully stretched that I could see every feather," said Pretorius.
The Flight Path (Canada) Connor Stefanison/ Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 Winner: The Eric Hosking Portfolio Award Stefanison studied this female barred owl's flight paths for some time before he set up for this shot. The owl had a territory near his home in Burnaby, British Columbia. He went to one of the owl's favorite perches, placed a dead mouse on a platform above the camera, and waited for the swoop. "She grabbed the mouse, flew back to her perch and began calling to her mate. It is one of the most exciting calls to hear in the wild," he said.
The Cauldron (Russia) Sergey Gorshkov/ Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 Winner: Wildscapes Gorshkov headed to Kamchatka, Russia when he found out one of the two volcanoes in the Tolbachik volcanoic plateau was erupting on Nov. 29, 2012. "I've gone to the area many times, but it had been 36 years since the last eruption," he said. "So I dropped everything and went." He shot this photo of Plosky Tolbachik while strapped to the open door of a helicopter.

Take a look at 9 of the best nature photos submitted to the 2013 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Which shot do you like the most?