50 of the World’s Most Gorgeous Photos of Animals

From beloved pets to wild creatures, a series of stunning photos of the amazing animals we share our world with

Photo: JJNMatt; all photos via Agora

Earlier this year, the photography app Agora challenged photographers to submit photos of living creatures from around the world for a contest focused on celebrating the diverse and precious life on our planet. More than 13,000 photos were submitted to the contest before the winner — a dazzling photo of an iguana by Indonesian photographer JJN Matt—was crowned.

From an absolutely charming shot of an arctic fox cub trying (and adorably failing) to look tough to a magical image of a highland cow storming through a misty heather field in the Netherlands to a heartbreaking photo of a devoted dog lying on his master’s gravestone in Bangladesh, each of the finalists has something new to tell us about the beautiful, enchanting, and distinctive creatures who populate the planet. These are 50 of the most captivating photographs from the contest.

“Arctic Fox” (Iceland)

Photo: Eric Panades

I went looking for this little one for days, when suddenly through the glass of the car I saw him perched on a slope. I ran and lay a meter from him while I was eating— that’s how I managed to catch this magnificent moment.

“Anemone Fish” (Sipadan Island, Malaysia)

Photo: Alex de Martin

Sipadan Island is a natural marine park where life thrives. When I was looking at an anemone, this family of clownfish seemed to pose for the camera.

“An Eagle Hunting” (Kruger National Park, South Africa)

Photo: Joe Shellyy

“All the Shades of Blue” (Gili Meno, Indonesia)

Photo: Maky and Matt

I wanted to capture my appreciation and love for the ocean, the beauty of the underwater world, and the importance of protecting our oceans. We went to Gili Meno just with our camera gear so we had to rent the snorkeling gear. Our feet were full of blisters and bleeding; we were fighting a strong current, but we just couldn’t resist the beauty of the ocean. The water was so clear—there were so many turtles, the lighting was perfect, and no one around. Definitely, a dive to remember!

“Moment” (Quang Ngai, Vietnam)

Photo: Alex Cao

I have two wishes that I’ve always aimed for: One is to gather all beautiful images of my province, Quang Ngai, and share them with the world. I want to protect and preserve not only the beautiful scenes in my homeland but also the wildlife that is being hunted and consumed terribly.

“Caballos” (Asturias, Spain)

Photo: Maria F. Cabaleiro

We found these horses during a family roadtrip with my family along the Asturian coast. With my photo, I wanted to transmit the feeling of protection and love.

“Madoda King” (Gondwana Game Reserve, South Africa)

Photo: French Cliche

Lions can be perfect models too!

“Mother Bekantan” (Cisarua, Indonesia)

Photo: Irawan Subingar

“Mother and Her Young” (Berkeley Deer Park, Berkeley, Gloucestershire, UK)

Photo: Dan Rose

I wanted to capture the bond and close connection a fawn has with its mother.

“Fly Descending Into a Cactus” (Parque de La Paloma, Andalucía, Spain)

Photo: La Foto Deeva

I went out with my two-and-a-half-year-old son to escape this whole pandemic situation for a brief moment. As always, with my camera in hand. Suddenly, I saw that my son was looking at something with insistence. He likes insects a lot, so I got closer and saw this blowfly resting on a small cactus flower. I was carried away by the emotion of my son. In this photo, I realized that the small details are what really matter.

“Puffin Close Up” (Smoker Island, Wales, UK)

Photo: Heather Bulley

I love wildlife and wildlife photography with a passion I wanted to capture unique, powerful portrait of a puffin this was caught my eye and stood tall for perfect puffin portrait.

“Reach the Winter” (Mongolia)

Photo: Thao Dang

It was the end of the autumn season, you can tell how pleased the reindeer was with the snow falling again.

“Shadow Game” (Finland)

Photo: Borsch

There were several deers walking on the road. They ignored dozens of cars passing by.

“Misty Heather Field in Full Bloom” (Laren, Netherlands)

Photo: Glenn Blanker

Every year brings the heather blooming season. This year was even more special as the fields were covered with a thick layer of fog and a highland cattle strolled through.

“The Barn Owl Has Landed” (Northumberland, UK)

Photo: Phil Robson

A shoot to capture flying barn owls, to convey the beauty and grace of flight.

“What Are You Looking At?” (South Korea)

Photo: Kyunghwha Lee

I was very happy that this plant finally bloomed to tell if it was a poisonous plant or not, and seeing bees coming and going, I knew it was a flower with a lot of pollen. The Fischers Ragwort is a popular delicacy herb that Koreans like to eat during springtime. It is almost the same as a Marsh Marigold, which is a poisonous plant, causing deaths every year.

“Winter Swim” (Iceland)

Photo: Jon Cleave

I spotted this majestic humpback whale breaching in a northern fjord—Iceland in the depths of winter.

“With Mom” (Waykambas National Park, Indonesia)

Photo: Sofyane Fendi

I took this photo in the morning, when dozens of elephants were being fed by the nursing staff in the national park.

“Wolves” (Montreal, Canada)

Photo: Spanikar

“Young Panda” (Chengdu, China)

Photo: Polatina

It was a rainy day without many pandas walking around. What could I do? Impossible to force a wild animal to show up or to pose! I was already grateful to visit this place and support those wonderful animals. Suddenly, the young panda came out from the forest. This was the best moment I remember and I was glad I was able to capture it.

“Privilege Witness” (Machu Picchu, Peru)

Photo: Josu Ozkaritz Astigarraga

Walking all over this unique landmark I came upon this llama resting peacefully on the grass. In such a crowded tourist destination, I was lucky to find this cute animal on a quiet, empty spot with no one interrupting this powerful moment connecting with nature. Sometimes llamas tend to have aggressive behavior when bothered. However, this friend seemed to be waiting for me to immortalize this moment. She posed like a pro model, with no complaints whatsoever before, during, or after the shooting. I stood by for a while afterwards, simply contemplating this gift from nature. Just a llama and me in Machu Picchu.

“Orangutan” (Tanjung, Indonesia)

Photo: Ading Kuswara

“Bear Crossing” (Division №15, Canada)

Photo: Blake Hobson

Doesn’t get much more Canadian than this!

“Baby Monkey” (Kedoya Utara, Indonesia)

Photo: Prabuds

“Newborn Labradoodle Puppy” (Dublin, Ireland)

Photo: Silvija Collins

Our family dog (Australian Labradoodle) had a litter of puppies two days prior to the photo being taken. We have two small children (2 and 4 at the time) who were so excited. They looked after her throughout her pregnancy, sang her songs, and were reassuring the dog everything will be OK. When the puppies came, my husband placed one sleeping puppy in his palms and brought it closer for the girls the see. They sang lullabies and he just held the puppy for them. It looked so peaceful and content. These puppies grew up in our kitchen with the constant care and attention of our children and ourselves before they went to loving homes. A lot of my photos focus on the bond between small children and their pets, the love, care, and affection that goes both ways.

“Lioness Pride” (Etosha, Namibia)

Photo: Ilaria Ronchi

The subject of this series of pictures is the biggest lion pride I have seen during my African trips, probably 30 members between cubs, lionesses, and two males. Doing a safari requires a lot of patience and also some luck. It was truly a movie scene and especially my heart melted when I saw the lionesses walking towards us, aligning in the perfect composition. Lionesses are the core of the pride since they are responsible for hunting and raising the cubs.

“Into the Darkness” (Dobbiaco Lake, Italy)

Photo: Alan Gallo

The swan is the light breaking through the darkness.

“Iguana” (Jakarta, Indonesia)

Photo: JJNMatt

The iguana conveys the beauty and uniqueness of nature.

“Icelandic” (Kirkjufell, Iceland)

Photo: Samuele Miccoli

We were walking in circles close to the famous mountains when a group of Icelandic horses started running in our direction. As soon as they came closer, they stopped to let us take a shot and then disappeared. The beauty of the country is not only fire and ice but also the animals who live there.

“Swimming” (Santa Cruz, California, USA)

Photo: Niko Pictures

“Motherlove” (Australia)

Photo: Patricia Ortega Olmos

“Humpback Whale Breeching” (Mooloolaba, Australia)

Photo: Rene Liniger

I go whale watching at least once every year. The whale migration season here lasts normally from June to October, during which time you can watch whales from the shores or out in the ocean from boats. It’s amazing watching these gentle giants going about their own business. And quite often they will also take a keen interest in finding out more about us when they come really close up to check us out. Never fails to amaze me!

“Horses” (Iran)

Photo: Bahram Bayat

“Little Tiger” (Chongqing, China)

Photo: Johnny Dee

He just looked like a little tiger, so majestic!

“Give It to Me” (Jaipur, India)

Photo: Beyond Imagina

The rhesus macaque’s typical diet consists of roots, fruits, seeds, and bark, but also insects and small animals.

“Friends” (Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana)

Photo: Barbara Prina

Sometimes we are so focused on seeking the beauty of big things that we lose sight of the wonder that hides in small things. We spent several hours waiting for the lions, in the Reserve, next to the pan: the sun was almost setting and we just wanted to take some pictures of the king, before it was too dark. At a certain time a small bird caught my attention: He was on the back of the zebra, and he was chirping loudly. I took that picture. Lions never came. Sometimes we are so focused on seeking the beauty of big things that we lose sight of the wonder that hides in small things.

“Honor Fight” (Indonesia)

Photo: Jordi Sark

“Highland Cow” (UK)

Photo: Above and Beyond Visuals

It’s not very often you get to witness an unusually colored animal, especially when the breed of a highland cow is generally a dark ginger color. It was amazing to witness the cow placed in the center, looking so obedient and stern with the others behind. I think the moral of this shot is no matter how unusual you or something may look, you are bound to stand out from the rest of the crowd. This is never a bad thing—embrace that and don’t let anybody tell you any different.

“Fierce” (Jakarta, Indonesia)

Photo: Pitokung

Here’s a majestic Sumatran Tiger wandering in the morning sunlight. Sometimes, you just need to be patient and wait for the right moment.

“Family” (Surin, Thailand)

Photo: Manny Librodo

The province of Surin is well known for its elephants. Traveling to this province would be incomplete without a visit to the Ban Ta Klang Elephant village. I wanted to show how the elephants have become symbols of beauty, grace, and elegance despite their gigantic size.

“Farmers” (Murtosa, Portugal)

Photo: Jorge Bacelar

Here is farmer Silvina with her Black turkey, which was brought to Portugal about 500 years ago when Spanish discoverers returned from their first forays into Central America. During their discoveries, they found that the Aztecs had two kinds of pets: the black turkey, and the dog. The Spaniards were amazed by this giant bird. From Spain, they passed quickly to Portugal where the tradition was kept alive until today, more than 500 years later.

“Encounter at Our Campsite” (Kamchatka, Russia)

Photo: Jewi Rücker

We spent a few days visiting the volcano Tolbachik during our expedition in Kamchatka. After dinner, suddenly this fox appeared at our camp. She was so curious, so peaceful and friendly. She showed up, watched us, and went away to play in the ashes. It was such a surprising, unexpected, and exciting moment that really hit my heart. I want to show the beauty of Mother Nature with these amazing patterns and show this peaceful wild fox and the heartwarming feeling I had at this moment.

“Freshwater” (Kebun binatang Taman Satwa Jurug, Indonesia)

Photo: W. Rahardjo

“Focused” (Germany)

Photo: Leo Wies

I often go to the local wild park to practice wildlife photography. It is impossible to discover a lynx in the wild in my region. I was impressed by the sharp eyes of this lynx. On this day there was snow and it was very cold and the park was almost empty. The moment I took the photo I had the feeling of having direct eye contact with the lynx. That feeling really sent shivers down my spine. With this photo, I wanted to evoke the same feeling and emotion I had. The viewer should have the impression of making direct eye contact with this beautiful creature.

“Devotion” (Armenian Church, Old Dhaka, Bangladesh)

Photo: Saiful Islam

My friend and I were chatting on the forecourt of the church. I noticed this dog lying on his master’s grave. Immediately I went home to look for my camera and, with the permission of the church officials, took the picture.

“Close Encounter” (Chamonix, France)

Photo: Onkwel Photo

I was so happy to spot my first ibex. After hiking for an hour and a half, I began to doubt I would see any. Literally one minute later, at the bend of a large rock, he was there, grazing his grass quietly right next to me!

“Chimp” (Seville, Spain)

Photo: Mohamed Tazi

This chimp was enjoying breakfast when suddenly, he stopped eating and looked at me like a model who was posing for a shooting session.

“Curious Seal” (Vancouver, Canada)

Photo: Adventure Ahead

The seal was lying on a rock, enjoying the afternoon sunshine. There was a trail going down from the cliff to the beach, and whenever there were people around, the seal would just check them out.

“Calf and Mother” (Quang Binh, Vietnam)

Photo: Nate Pham

I got to the beach about half an hour before sunset and spotted a herd of cows wandering around the beach. I got chased while trying to take my shot!

“A Tower of Giraffe” (Imire Rhino & Wildlife Conservation, Zimbabwe)

Photo: Kent Sampson

Shooting wildlife can be challenging. The unpredictability of animals makes it both incredibly frustrating and hugely rewarding. Often you’ll witness something spectacular, and by the time you’ve brought your camera to your eye, it’s over. Having said that, I’m grateful these giraffes were kind enough to stand still long enough for me to capture this picture-perfect moment, lining up perfectly with the tree in the background, adding to the overall composition.

You can find more information about this and similar contests at Agora Images.

Formerly editorial director @BuzzFeed. Currently editor @Tenderly and writer at large. Email: JackAShepherd at gmail

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