When you think of great wildlife photography, you probably think of National Geographic-style shots of exotic animals in remote, faraway lands.
But one photographer took a much smaller approach, documenting the nature that goes on in our own neighborhoods all the time—and one stunning shot has now landed him a major honor.
Most city residents don’t give much thought to the common sight of rodents in their subway stations. But wildlife photographer Sam Rowley sees things from a different angle: he’s fascinated with urban wildlife.
“I feel that these kinds of photos strike a chord with people, providing them with the opportunity to see the city as a wild place,” he told the Natural History Museum.
“Not everyone is lucky enough to see wildlife in the more remote, unspoilt regions of the world. Therefore, we have to appreciate the commoner species, which is what my urban wildlife photography’s all about.”
He’s particularly fascinated with the mice who inhabit the London Underground. They’re a part of every day life for thousands of commuters—and yet no one has ever set out to seriously photograph them before.
Rowley set out to photograph the mice himself… but it wasn’t as easy as it sounds: getting the shots required lying belly-down on the subway floor as people walked around him, wondering what in the world he was doing.
On the other hand, these city critters can be pretty ideal subjects.
“Urban wildlife is usually more approachable than their countryside cousins, allowing me to get more creative with my approach,” Rowley said. “Instead of relying on camera traps or spending hours in a hide, I can often approach wildlife without worry.”
“This helps me be more flexible in my approach, allowing me to experiment with angles, composition and lighting.”
That patience and creativity paid off when Rowley managed to take a stunning photograph… of two mice fighting over a crumb:
It’s some photograph: the two mice, depicted in a desolate station and shot in stark sillhouette, appear to be fighting to the death over the mere crumb. One appears to be holding down the other.
The fight itself wasn’t quite as epic as the image suggests—it lasted a split second, one ended up with the morsel and the mice split up.
But Rowley managed to capture the drama and desperation of this little world, proving his point that our everyday lives are filled with nature worth examining.
“These mice only know the constant roar of trains and perpetual darkness,” he said. “Most won’t have ever seen daylight or felt grass under their feet.”
“The tunnels are a desperate place to live if they need to have a boxing match over a tiny little crumb.”
Not only that, the photograph, dubbed “Subway Squabble,” won Rowley a major honor: the LUMIX People’s Choice Award for Wildlife Photographer of the Year.
The contest is held by London’s Natural History Museum. Rowley’s photo received 28,000 votes, beating out 48,000 other photographs, and it will be displayed at the museum until May.
The runners-up included photos of exotic animals like jaguars eating an anaconda, but it was the humble struggle of mice that won out in the end.
“Sam’s image provides a fascinating glimpse into how wildlife functions in a human-dominated environment,” said Sir Michael Dixon, Director of the Museum. “The mice’s behavior is sculpted by our daily routine, the transport we use and the food we discard.”
“I am so pleased to win this award,” Sam Rowley said. “I hope it shows people the unexpected drama found in the most familiar of urban environments.”
We’ll never look at subway mice the same way again! Share this incredible photo!