A day of cross-country skiing in western Montana earned Zack Clothier the 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year.
The Natural History Museum in London awarded the title to the Corinthian native, who is a full-time nature photographer specializing in the landscapes and wildlife of the American West. Clothier, 38, lives in Montana with his wife Cortney, also from Corinth, and their husky Mya.
Clothier photographed a grizzly bear looking straight into his camera with an elk carcass in the background.
“I found the elk carcass while skiing one day in the winter, and I knew this would be the perfect place to set up a camera trap,” he explained.
Clothier manufactures high-end surveillance cameras that use motion sensors and are housed in a waterproof housing so they can be left in the wild for long periods of time.
External flashes help brighten images, especially at night. When an animal passes, sensors trigger the camera to take a photo.
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The clothier set the camera trap on the moose to see what might come and eat it. He expected the camera to capture images of wolves.
“Originally when I found the carcass there were wolf tracks in the snow and it looks like the wolf originally shot the elk,” Clothier said. “But there wasn’t much left. The bones were pretty clean when I found it. But I knew the smell would always attract other animals.
The wolf never returned to the scene, but the scent attracted other animals, including snowshoe hares, foxes, martens and other smaller animals.
Two months later, Clothier returned to the scene in the spring to change the batteries in the camera trap. He must have passed a small stream, which had turned into a raging river during a week of warmer spring temperatures.
He spent a few hours building a makeshift bridge of felled trees so he could cross the creek, then snowshoes back to the carcass.
“I found grizzly bear tracks immediately when I returned to that area so I knew the bear was there, maybe even still there,” Clothier said. “The slopes were cool.”
The elk carcass had been torn off on camera.
He admits he was nervous being alone in the woods with a grizzly bear nearby. Grizzly bears, a subspecies of brown bears, spend up to seven months in torpor, a mild form of hibernation. They are hungry when they emerge in the spring.
“It’s not the thing you want to meet,” he laughed.
A huge grizzly bear walked past the camera, which snapped a photo just hours before Clothier returned to the scene.
“My camera was knocked over all over the place, the bear was drooling all over the lens, the camera was pointed skyward,” he said. “I knew the bear had attacked him. He entered from the side. I think he heard the shutter button inside the camera body and he didn’t like that sound and it was too close to his breakfast.
This photo was the last photo on his camera.
“I had this photo of him looking at him,” he said. “He kind of walked in, heard the camera, looked at the camera, and took the camera out.”
Clothier submitted the photo to the annual competition of the Natural History Museum in London, considered the oldest and most prestigious nature and wildlife photography competition.
There were over 50,000 submissions from 95 different countries. The title comes with a cash prize as well as numerous free press articles.
Prints of his work can be purchased at www.ZackClothierPhotography.com.
Clothier, who admits to being more of a landscape photographer, started taking photos at the age of 12. He was homeschooled in Corinth.
As a child he read a lot of books and spent a lot of time in the Corinthian woods taking pictures.
“I just like being outside in nature,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to have a job that you love to do. I just love being there and photography is a way to get me out. “
You can reach Gretta Hochsprung at 518-742-3206 or [email protected]