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15/10/2013 23:05 BST | Updated 16/10/2013 06:18 BST

Winners of Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013: Majestic Elephants And Leaping Leopards (PICTURES)

The winners of this year’s prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition have been announced today at a gala awards ceremony held at London’s Natural History Museum.

South African photographer Greg du Toit has been named Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 by the panel of international judges for his image Essence of elephants, a mysterious and energetic portrait of African elephants in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in Botswana (below).

wildlife photographer of the year 2013

Beating almost 43,000 other entries from across 96 countries, Greg’s image will take centre stage at the exhibition, opening at the Natural History Museum on 18 October.

The show celebrates the rich array of life on our planet, reflecting its beauty and also highlighting its fragility. After its London premiere, the exhibition embarks on a UK and international tour, to be enjoyed by millions of people across the world.

Greg spent 10 years on the quest for a perfect portrait of an elephant herd and preparation, passion and luck combined to help him secure this winning image.

"My goal was to throw caution to the wind," says Greg, "to abandon conventional photographic practices in an attempt to capture a unique elephant portrait. This image hints at the special energy I feel when I am with elephants."

Chair of the judging panel, accomplished wildlife photographer Jim Brandenburg says: "Greg’s image immediately catapults us to African plains.

"This image stood out for both its technical excellence and the unique moment it captures – it is truly a once in a lifetime shot."

Fourteen-year-old photographer Udayan Rao Pawar has also been recognised as Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 for his image Mother’s little headful (below).

This presents an arresting scene of gharial crocodiles on the banks of the Chambal River in Madhya Pradesh, India, an area increasingly under threat from illegal sand mining and fishing.

wildlife photographer of the year 2013

Udayan camped close to the river overnight in order to achieve this early morning shot.

"When dawn broke I saw this scene." Says Udayan "The mother rose to the surface from the murky depths of the river in response to the guttural calls of hatchlings, which then rushed towards her and climbed over her exposed head."

Judge Tui De Roy, an acclaimed naturalist and wildlife photographer, said of the image,"‘The composition and timing of Udayan’s photograph is perfect.

"The mother’s gaze seems directed at you, appealing to you to let her live and thrive in peace. This image is beautiful and thought-provoking, but at the same time also wonderfully playful, making it a clear winner."

The two images were selected from 18 individual category winners, depicting nature at its finest, from displays of peculiar animal behaviour to stunning landscapes.

Take a look at other jaw-dropping pictures from Winners of Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013:

wildlife photographer of the year 2013

wildlife photographer of the year 2013

wildlife photographer of the year 2013

wildlife photographer of the year 2013

wildlife photographer of the year 2013

wildlife photographer of the year 2013

wildlife photographer of the year 2013

wildlife photographer of the year 2013

Take a look at last year's winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year:

Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012

Flick through National Geographic photos, celebrating 125 years of photography:

Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012

Take a look at the winning photos from the recent 2012 National Geographic Photo Contest:

Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012