Stars sparkle across a deep blue sky at Emas National Park in Brazil. A glowing termite mound illuminates the night. Below the structure, an anteater creeps forward.
This is the scene captured by Marcio Cabral's photograph "The Night Raider," which was one of the winners in last year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. The British Natural History Museum, which has been hosting the prestigious competition for more than 50 years, revoked the prize on Friday on grounds the animal in the photo is not, in fact, living.
"Evidence was presented to the museum by third parties that it is highly likely the animal in the awarded photograph is a taxidermy specimen," the museum said. "After a thorough investigation, the museum concluded that the available evidence points to this allegation being true."
The anonymous third party provided the museum with photos of a stuffed anteater featured in an exhibit outside a visitor center at the same park where Cabral shot his image. The institution consulted with five experts, two of them specializing in South American mammals and anteaters, who concluded the animal on display is the same one in Cabral's photo.
Cabral has not responded to CNN's request for comment.
"The competition places great store on honesty and integrity, and such a breach of the rules is disrespectful to the wildlife photography community, which is at the heart of the competition," Roz Kidman Cox, who served as a judge for the 2017 competition, said in the statement. "This disqualification should remind entrants that any transgression of the rules and spirit of the competition will eventually be found out."
"The Night Raider" was awarded first place in the Animals in their Environment category. In his original caption, Cabral claimed to have waited for three seasons to capture the perfect image at Emas National Park.
The photographer turned over all necessary materials for the investigation and "strongly denies that the anteater in the image is a taxidermy specimen," according to the museum.
He had a witness who also claimed to have seen the anteater, but could not explain why the animal was nowhere in sight in the shots taken before and after the winning photograph.
Cabral is barred from participating in the museum's future competitions.
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