Written by By Tatiana Sakesha, CNN
It all started with one look — a poor, distressed pup stood staring up at the camera from the edge of a mud pit in New Caledonia, the remote Pacific atoll that has become one of the world’s leading marine conservation zones.
The photographer, the award’s founder, and the dog were in the process of shooting footage for a documentary about the local fernery fish industry, when they paused to examine the mottled, trembling creature for a single instant.
They believed the camera’s lens might be helping him hide his body. And so Sapho, a 6-month-old Malamule, fished his way into the photographer’s heart.
And later that day, on the edge of the subterranean Atlantic Ocean, the pup became one of the most photogenic animals in the world.
The Malamule is a dark-colored nacelleshi, a parrotfish bred in New Caledonia by the aboriginal maroons and taught to help people search for lost products.
Since that day, the tiny Malamule’s life has been every bit as remarkable as that of its photogenic owner. The creature is still the subject of countless gorgeous shots.
One notable photo was taken in a film set lit only by the kind of dark reflection that film cameras use. And the movement of the setting sun to match the aquatic light source was just right to make the pup’s mouth shake — and its tongue puff out its four feathers.
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Little had been known about the domestic nacelleshi before Sapho turned it into an international star. He has travelled across the New Caledonian archipelago and assisted with portraits and documentaries to document the indigenous species’ unique relationship with the people whose lives they inhabit.
The theme for the 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards is “The Edge.” To help recognize the “energy of the edge,” the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice award is also opening to public voting.
Paul Blake, one of the wildlife photographers behind the award, said in a statement: “This new twist adds another layer of fun and accessibility to one of our most vibrant and riveting wildlife photography categories, with the ability to choose the winning images from across the entire competition. We’re thrilled to see the people’s vote join the awards on the BBC iPlayer.”
The Zoo Appeal, the not-for-profit organization that manages the project and where Sapho lives with his trainer, is urging visitors to the UK Wildlife Photographer of the Year festival this week to vote.
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If you want to help, go to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year festival website.