People usually run away when they see mice, but not wildlife photographer Sam Rowley. He is so fascinated by the rodents that he spent five nights on a platform in the London Underground network to try to get a picture.
Obviously it’s not easy to get a photo of little black mice scurrying along the platforms and under the rails, but Rowley’s patience not only paid off, it even won him an award! One night, Rowley captured the perfect image – two mice were literally in a brawl over a piece of food dropped by a random passenger. “Everybody knows about the mice in the Underground but I don’t think anyone’s seen them in that light before,” he said.
Rowley’s determination, despite the unlikely subject, won him the Wildlife Photographer of the Year LUMIX People’s Choice award. The annual internationally famous competition gives fans a chance to rank images that don’t win top prizes. Rowley’s fabulous shot, titled “Station Squabble,” was chosen the favorite in the “best of the rest” category with 28,000 votes from a shortlist of 25 images.
Rowley, a semi-professional photographer and researcher at the BBC, had the idea for his photo after a friend sent a video after a night out. “My friend sent me a video of mice on a station platform after a night out, and it dawned on me. It surprised me that no one had seriously taken on the challenge of photographing London’s station mice before, and it seemed like an obvious project for me to undertake.”
To capture the remarkable award-winning photo, Rowley stayed late into the night at a station in central London, lying flat on his stomach to ensure a low-angle view. Finally, two subjects came into view. The mice had been separately hunting for food, until they chanced upon crumbs on the subway.
In a split second, an argument ensued with fists up in the air, before the pugnacious mice went their separate ways. Rowley shared, “I usually take a burst of photos and I got lucky with this shot, but then I had spent five days lying on a platform so it was probably going to happen at some point.”
Rowley’s interest in taking photos of mice comes from his passion for urban wildlife photography. “With the majority of the world living in urban areas and cities now, you have to tell the story about how people relate to wildlife. Wildlife is fantastic and I think we need to appreciate the smaller and supposedly more difficult animals to live with.”
Rowley also admired the ability of the animals to survive in a tough environment. He said, “These tube mice, for example, are born and spend their whole lives without ever even seeing the sun or feeling a blade of grass. On one level, it’s a desperate situation – running along gloomy passages for a few months, maybe a year or two, and then dying. And because there are so many mice and so few resources, they have to fight over something as irrelevant as a crumb.”
Sir Michael Dixon, director of London’s Natural History Museum, which runs the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, said, “Sam’s image provides a fascinating glimpse into how wildlife functions in a human-dominated environment. The mice’s behavior is sculpted by our daily routine, the transport we use, and the food we discard. This image reminds us that while we may wander past it every day, humans are inherently intertwined with the nature that is on our doorstep – I hope it inspires people to think about and value this relationship more.”
Rowley said of the award, “It’s been a lifetime dream to succeed in this competition in this way, with such a relatable photo taken in such an everyday environment in my hometown. I hope it shows people the unexpected drama found in the most familiar of urban environments.”
The LUMIX poll of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition recognized other notable wildlife photography contributions, including four runners-up, or “Highly Commended”, images.
These included photos of an exploited orangutan by Aaron Gekoski; a mother and cub jaguar tackling an anaconda by Michel Zoghzhogi; a conservation ranger and the baby black rhino in his care by Martin Buzora; and white arctic reindeer by Francis De Andres.
Photographers from 100 countries submitted 48,000 entries for Wildlife Photographer of the Year 55. An exhibit of top photos can be viewed at the Natural History Museum until May 31 and grand prize winners will be announced in October.