It's hard not to fall head over heels for the natural world after feasting your eyes on the winning images in the 58th Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Awards. German photographer Sascha Fonseca's stunning camera-trap image of a snow leopard on the icy cliffs of northern India won first prize out of a pool of 25 shortlisted images, picking up the majority of the 60,466 votes.

World of the snow leopard
Against a backdrop of the spectacular mountains of Ladakh in northern India, a snow leopard has been caught in a perfect pose by Sascha’s carefully positioned camera trap. Thick snow blankets the ground, but the big cat’s dense coat and furry footpads keep it warm.
Sascha Fonseca/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Fonseca captured the shot during a three-year, bait-free camera-trap project in the Indian Himalayas. Photographing snow leopards is no easy feat. Famous for their exceptional camouflage and stealth, these elusive cats usually skulk undetected through their remote, rugged habitats. With only around 6,500 snow leopards left in the wild, their scarcity adds to the significant challenge of capturing them on camera. 

"I’m incredibly proud to be the winner of this year’s People’s Choice Award and I thank all the supporters around the world for making this happen," Fonseca said in a press release. "Photography can connect people to wildlife and encourage them to appreciate the beauty of the unseen natural world. I believe that a greater understanding of wildlife leads to deeper caring which hopefully results in active support and greater public interest for conservation."

Snow leopards are threatened by habitat loss, poaching and human-wildlife conflict, so it's hoped that Fonseca's image can help spread awareness about these imperilled cats and encourage their protection.

"This year’s record number of votes illustrates how wildlife photography can engage and inspire audiences with the wonder of nature. A result of dedication and perseverance, Sascha’s remarkable image captures the breathtaking beauty of our planet and reminds us of our shared responsibility to protect it.’ says Dr Douglas Gurr, Director of the Natural History Museum.

The four 'Highly Commended' finalists included a gut-wrenching image of a leopard carrying a dead monkey and its baby, red foxes sharing a moment of affection, a polar bear engulfed in a field of purple flowers, and a striking portrait of a male lion.

Among the flowers
Martin watched this polar bear cub playing in a mass of fireweed on the coast of Hudson Bay, Canada. Every so often the cub would take a break from its fun, stand on its hind legs and poke its head up above the high flowers to look for its mother. Wanting to capture the world from the cub’s angle, Martin placed his camera – in an underwater housing, for protection against investigating bears – at ground level among the fireweed. He then waited patiently a safe distance away with a remote trigger. Not being able to see exactly what was happening, Martin had to judge just the right moment when the bear would pop up in the camera frame.
Martin Gregus/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Holding on
This leopardess had killed a monkey in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. The monkey’s baby was still alive and clinging to its mother. Igor watched as the predator walked calmly back to her own baby. Her cub played with the baby monkey for more than an hour before killing it, almost as if it had been given live prey as a hunting lesson.
Igor Altuna/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Fox affection
On a chilly day in North Shore on Prince Edward Island, Canada, a pair of red foxes, greet one another with an intimate nuzzle. The red fox’s mating season is in the winter, and it is not uncommon to see them together prior to denning. This special moment is one of Brittany’s favourite images and one of the tenderest moments she has witnessed between adult foxes.
Brittany Crossman/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Portrait of Olobor
It was late afternoon when Marina found Olobor resting. He is one of the famous five-strong coalition of males in the Black Rock pride in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve. All around the lion, the ground was black, having been burnt by local Maasai herdsmen to stimulate a new flush of grass. Marina wanted to capture his majestic and defiant look against the dark background and lowered her camera out of her vehicle to get an eye-level portrait.
Marina Cano/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

 Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London.