This set of images from the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition may be focused on animals, but the message to humans is loud and clear: It's our responsibility to protect the natural world and challenge those who threaten it.

This year's competition, which is hosted by the Natural History Museum in London, involved more than 45,000 submissions from professional and amateur photographers from 95 countries. The winners won't be announced until October, but the organization selected these images as a hint of what's to come.

The photo above was captured by French photographer Emmanuel Rondeau in Bhutan, who describes the action:

"In a remote forest, high in the Himalayas of central Bhutan, a Bengal tiger fixes his gaze on the camera. The path he treads is part of a network linking the country’s national parks — corridors that are key to the conservation of this endangered subspecies but unprotected from logging and poaching. Emmanuel and a team of rangers climbed rugged terrain, with enough kit to set up eight still and eight video cameras along one route, in the hope of glimpsing a tiger pass by (there were just 103 in Bhutan at the last count). Concentrating on areas with previous tiger records, they searched for evidence of recent use – tracks, scratches and faeces — and then Emmanuel installed cameras on wooden posts in the most likely spots, composing the view so the subject would be framed within its mountain environment. After 23 days (and hundreds of false triggers by leaves and high winds), he hit the jackpot: a magnificent male tiger, and from his distinctive stripe pattern, one previously unrecorded in Bhutan. The tiger inspected the kit closely before disappearing into the forest, leaving this rare image, as if looking to us to protect his realm."

For each image, the photographer wrote a detailed caption, which is what you'll see under each of the images below.

Titiwangsa horned tree lizard
'The Victor' (Photo: Adam Hakim Hogg/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

"When Adam first spotted the Titiwangsa horned tree lizard on the road near his home in the mountains of Pahang, Malaysia, it was in a furious life-and‑death battle with a venomous Malaysian jewel centipede. There was a lot of chasing, writhing and thrashing about, and Adam was so fascinated that he completely forgot about his camera and simply watched. Only when the lizard finally overpowered the centipede did Adam think about framing a picture. He jumped into the ditch and crawled towards the lizard for an eye‑level portrait of the victor standing over its prize. The species is one of Adam’s favourite lizards. But it is also highly sought after by poachers for the pet trade, and Adam and his father do regular anti-poaching walks. So once this individual had finished its meal, Adam made sure it ran back into the safety of the forest." — Adam Hakim Hogg

wildlife at Chernobyl
'School visit' (Photo: Titiwangsa horned tree lizard/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

"Adrian was exploring the derelict schoolroom when the red fox trotted in, perhaps curious about the human or perhaps just on its rounds. It stopped briefly on the carpet of child-sized gas masks, just long enough for a picture, and then exited through a broken window. The school in Pripyat, Ukraine, was abandoned in 1986, as was the whole city, following the catastrophic explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, just 3 kilometres (nearly 2 miles) away. It was the worst nuclear accident in history, spreading radioactive fallout across Europe. Pripyat’s buildings are now decaying and have been looted (the gas masks — Cold War relics — were left as being of no value). The city lies within the 30-kilometre (19-mile) exclusion zone, which only accredited individuals can enter, and in the absence of humans, the forest is moving back in. Animals such as wild boar, deer, moose and lynx are making a comeback, and there are even sightings of brown bears and wolves. Though there were areas of the zone that Adrian was advised not to enter because radiation levels were still too high, and though the long-term effect of radiation on the animals is far from clear, wildlife appears to be thriving." — Adrian Bliss

sun bear
'Witness' (Photo: Emily Garthwaite/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

"As soon as he saw Emily, the sun bear hurried to the front of his filthy cage. 'Every time I moved, he would follow me.' He was just one of several sun bears kept behind the scenes at a zoo in Sumatra, Indonesia, in conditions Emily says were ‘appalling’. Sun bears are the world’s smallest bears, now critically endangered. In the lowland forests of Southeast Asia, they spend much of their time in trees, eating fruit and small animals, using their claws to prise open rotten wood in search of grubs. They are threatened by rampant deforestation and the demand for their bile and organs for traditional Chinese medicine. People involved in illegal logging and clearance for oil palms are also linked to animal trafficking. When this sun bear saw the keeper, he started screaming. It was a chilling noise. Even more chilling was the nearby taxidermy museum with its stuffed pangolins and Sumatran tigers." — Emily Garthwaite

sargassumfish
'Life among litter' (Photo: Greg Lecoeur/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

"This Sargassumfish couldn’t hide among the litter. The nearby frond of Sargassum seaweed was a far cry from the free-floating rafts of the seaweed that more normally shelter this frogfish and many other specialized species. A master of camouflage and an ambush predator, the Sargassumfish stalks its prey on claw-like fins through the fronds of these floating islands, concealed by its tan colour and feathery outline. Greg spotted this individual when returning from a dive on the biodiverse reefs of the Indonesian archipelago of Raja Ampat. It is an area of the western Pacific Ocean where strong currents converge, bringing with them nutrients that sustain the rich biodiversity. The currents also collect and concentrate anything else that floats — including some of the millions of tonnes of plastic that end up in the oceans each year." — Greg Lecoeur

lioness drinking water
'Cool cat' (Photo: Isak Pretorius/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

"A lioness drinks from a waterhole in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. She is one of the Mfuwe Lodge pride – two males, five females and five cubs. Isak had been keeping watch on them while they slept off a feast from a buffalo kill the night before. Lions kill more than 95 per cent of their prey at night and may spend 18–20 hours resting. When this female got up and walked off, Isak anticipated that she might be going for a drink, and so he headed for the nearest waterhole. Though lions can get most of the moisture they need from their prey and even from plants, they drink regularly when water is available. Isak positioned his vehicle on the opposite side of the waterhole, close to the edge, steadying his long lens in the low light on a bean bag. Sure enough, the lioness appeared through the tall, rainy-season grass and hunched down to drink, occasionally looking up or sideways. With perfect timing, Isak caught her gaze and her tongue, lapping the water, framed by the wall of lush green." — Isak Pretorius

Eurasian lynx
'Kitten combat' (Photo: Julius Kramer/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

"It had been more than a year since Julius set up his camera trap in Germany’s Upper Bavarian Forest, and he had got just two records of Eurasian lynx. He was on the brink of giving up when a biologist colleague insisted that this was 'such a typical spot for lynx.' Like many solitary cats, the males have expansive home ranges, within which one or more females live. Most active at dawn and dusk, they are powerfully built, with slightly longer hindlimbs for pouncing on prey. They hunt mainly herbivores, such as deer, which brings them into conflict with hunters. Julius went on to weather problems including failed batteries, humidity, deep snow and spider webs before his luck changed dramatically. Two six-month-old kittens turned up to play. Honing their hunting skills with joyful exuberance, they rewarded Julius with pictures and the hope that the population might be growing." — Julius Kramer

flamingos in the Southern Ewaso Ng’iro River delta
'Delta design' (Photo: Paul Mckenzie/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

"Flying over the Southern Ewaso Ng’iro River delta, on the border of Kenya and Tanzania, Paul was mesmerized by the network of tendrils, tinged green with algae, spreading through the river sediment. A far fainter latticework traced the trails made by lesser flamingos as they fed. Every year for the past 12 years, Paul has flown over the delta, observing its constant reshaping due to fluctuating rainfall and deposits of silt and sand. Flowing south through Kenya, the river empties into the caustic waters of Lake Natron in northern Tanzania, a major breeding site for lesser flamingos, which rely on the river’s fresh water for drinking and for cleaning the salt from their feathers. As his small plane flew over the fern one final time, Paul framed his shot through the open door, battling against turbulence to capture nature’s silt and water composition." — Paul Mckenzie

juvenile red-footed booby
'Flight' (Photo: Sue Forbes/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

"For days, Sue scanned rough seas in the Indian Ocean. ‘We’d often see flying fish,’ she says, ‘but only occasionally would there be boobies.’ Then, one morning — northeast of D’Arros Island in the Outer Islands of the Seychelles — she awoke to find tranquil water and a single juvenile red-footed booby, circling. These ocean‑going birds — the smallest booby species, with a metre-wide (3-foot) wingspan — spend most of their time at sea, flying long distances with ease. Sharp-eyed, they swoop down to seize prey, mainly squid and flying fish. Their bodies are streamlined for plunge‑diving — nostrils closed and wings pinned back — and nimble enough to grab flying fish in mid-air. Before breaking the surface to escape predators such as tuna and marlin, flying fish build up tremendous speed under water, to glide, airborne, on their stiff pectoral fins. Sue kept her eye on the bird. She had no idea when and where a chase might happen. 'Suddenly, a fish leapt out,' she says. 'and down came the booby.' With quick reactions, Sue captured the fleeting moment of the pursuit. The booby missed, and the fish got away." — Sue Forbes

meerkats and Anchieta’s cobra
'The meerkat mob' (Photo: Tertius A Gous/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

"When an Anchieta’s cobra reared its head and moved towards two meerkat pups near their warren on Namibia’s Brandberg Mountain, the rest of the pack — foraging nearby — reacted almost instantly. Rushing back, the 20-strong group split into two: one group grabbed the pups and huddled a safe distance away, the other took on the snake. Fluffing up their coats, tails raised, the mob edged forwards, growling. When the snake lunged, they sprang back. This was repeated over and over for about 10 minutes. Tertius had a ringside seat from his vehicle and relished the chance to capture such intense interaction between the meerkat pack and the little known Anchieta’s cobra. Focusing on the snake’s classic profile and flicking tongue, he also caught the expressions of fear and aggression among the meerkats, some facing their attacker and one fleeing. Finally, the cobra gave up and disappeared down a burrow into the warren. The meerkats reunited and scurried away, most probably to an alternative — snake-free — warren in their territory." — Tertius A Gous

Asian sheepshead wrasse
'Looking for love' (Photo: Tony Wu/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

"Accentuating his mature appearance with pastel colours, protruding lips and an outstanding pink forehead, this Asian sheepshead wrasse sets out to impress females and see off rivals, which he will head-butt and bite. Tony has long been fascinated by the species’ looks and life history. Individuals start out as females, and when they reach a certain age and size — up to a metre (more than 3 feet) long — can transform into males. Long-lived and slow-growing, the species is intrinsically vulnerable to overfishing. It favours rocky reefs in cool waters in the Western Pacific, where it feeds on shellfish and crustaceans, though little more is known about it. In a window of calm, amid high seas, Tony reached Japan’s remote Sado Island, to reveal some of the drama of the wrasses’ lives. Here, he conveys the suitor’s earnest intentions, written large on his face." — Tony Wu

walruses
'Mister Whiskers' (Photo: Valter Bernardeschi/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

"It was a bright summer’s night when Valter came across the walruses. They were feeding just off an island in the Norwegian archipelago off Svalbard. Putting on his wetsuit, and using a couple of monopod poles and a float to extend his camera in front of him, Valter slipped into the icy water. Immediately, a few curious walruses — mainly youngsters — began swimming towards him. Clumsy on land, these weighty giants now moved with ease and speed. Keeping at pole’s length, he was able to take this intimate portrait of the distinctive whiskered faces of a youngster and its watchful mother. Walruses use their highly sensitive whiskers and snout to search out bivalve molluscs (such as clams) and other small invertebrates on the ocean floor. In the cold water, their thick protective skin appears grey when blood flow to its surface is reduced, but darker, reddish‑brown when they are out of water and have warmed up. The tusks are not used for feeding but for display among the males, for defence against polar bears and for hauling themselves out, especially onto sea ice. They will rest on ice floes between bouts of feeding and even give birth on them." — Valter Bernardeschi

yellow pygmy goby
'Glass-house guard' (Photo: Wayne Jones/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

"On the sandy seabed off the coast of Mabini in the Philippines, a yellow pygmy goby guards its home — a discarded glass bottle. It is one of a pair, each no more than 4 centimetres (1 and a half inches) long, that have chosen a bottle as a perfect temporary home. The female will lay several batches of eggs, while the male performs guard duty at the entrance. Setting up his camera a few centimetres in front of the bottle’s narrow opening, Wayne positioned his two strobes — one at the base of the bottle to illuminate the interior, and the other at the front to light the goby’s characteristic surprised face. Opting for a shallow depth of field, Wayne focused on the goby’s bulging blue eyes, allowing the movement of the fish to blur the rest of its features into a haze of yellow, and framing its portrait with the circular entrance to the bottle." — Wayne Jones