National Geographic Best Photos of the Year

Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa” is believed to depict Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a Florentine silk merchant. Every year, millions of visitors jostle for a view at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The painting, protected by a thick layer of glass that must be cleaned regularly, has never been restored.

 

Petronella Chigumbura, a member of the Akashinga—a nonprofit, all-female anti-poaching unit—practices reconnaissance techniques in the Zimbabwean bush.

 

A male elephant grabs an evening snack in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park. Most of the park’s elephants were killed for their ivory, used to buy weapons during the nation’s 15-year civil war, which ended in 1992. With poaching controlled, the population is recovering.

 

Marines have to be able to carry one another if necessary. USMC Cpl. Gabrielle Green hefts a fellow marine as they ready for deployment on a Navy ship at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Of the 38,000 recruits who enter the corps each year, about 3,500 are women—or, in USMC phrasing, “female marines.”

 

Canadian soldiers climb on the wreckage of a plane, roughly a thousand miles south of the North Pole, to scout the area during an Arctic survival course on Cornwallis Island. As the Arctic warms and tensions over its future rise, the Canadian and U.S. militaries have stepped up operations in the region.

 

Some 400 U.S. soldiers practice parachute jumps near Alaska’s Fort Greely. The multinational exercise, which includes Canadian forces, prepares troops for the rigors of large, coordinated operations in extreme cold conditions.

 

In Agadez, Niger, an Izala school educates about 1,300 students. Izala is a back-to-basics Islamic reformist movement that adheres to conservative practices, such as women covering their faces, but also prizes education.

 

Children nap at a kindergarten in Mongolia’s Bayanzurkh District. Each room is equipped with an air purifier, in an attempt to lower the level of indoor air pollution. Children are especially vulnerable to poor air quality.

 

Sal Thegal dressed like a hot dog at the Minnesota State Fair on Friday, August 23, 2019.

 

A Temminck’s ground pangolin named Tamuda searches for a meal of ants or termites at a rehabilitation center in Zimbabwe. He was rescued from illegal wildlife traders, who likely would have smuggled his scales to Asia for use in traditional remedies.

 

A crocodile rests in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, where wildlife’s future depends on humans’ livelihoods.

 

Two rats at India’s Karni Mata Temple box to determine which is dominant. Rats are social animals that take good care of their offspring. Studies show they will free a fellow rat from a small cage—even if it means giving up a treat. This suggests to some researchers that rats feel empathy.

 

Behind netting, a polar bear dances at the Circus on Ice in Kazan, Russia. Performing polar bears are extremely rare. The show’s four bears wear metal muzzles, and their trainer, Yulia Denisenko, carries a metal rod. Between tricks, the bears lie down and rub themselves on the ice.

 

Clay, Daniel, and Enzo, three of 39 tigers rescued from an animal park in Oklahoma, gather at a pool at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado. These cats will live out their lives here, with proper nutrition and vet care.

 

Lions that were released and collared in a remote region of the 4,500-square-kilometer Zambeze Delta area of Mozambique lounge in the early morning mist.

 

Incahuasi, “House of the Inca” in Quechua, was an island when Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt flat was a lake in prehistoric times. A remnant of a volcano, it’s covered in cacti, some towering 40 feet, and fossilized algae. Extracting lithium from under the salt flat is certain to alter the spectacular landscape.

 

Fourteen-year-old Danila holds a baby alpaca near Huaylillas in the highlands of northern Peru.

 

This book is a romance novel, but National Liberation Front (ELN) Comandante Yesenia also reads aloud to her river outpost compatriots from works of ideology and ELN history. At 36, she has spent more than half her life as a guerrilla fighter in Colombia; her two children live with civilian relatives.

 

The majority of residents in Uganda’s Bidibidi refugee camp are children, many of whom also work to help their families. In a small shop near his home in Zone 5, 13-year-old Steven Ladu sells candy.

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