CHOICE : Beauty and the beasts

threee to see in seven days

Whether you're into animals and plants or not, the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition should not be missed. Colour film could have been made for the genre, on the strength of this year's offerings. Here, to die for, are autumn leaves, bright red poppies, the rich red and purple of a starfish, shades of yellow and beige of the Namib desert and the rich brown texture of a bear's fur. Cherry Alexander takes this year's first prize for her quite stunning study of a rare "blue" iceberg in Antarctica (becoming the first woman to win the prize), while Chris Mattison's close-up portrait of some web-footed geckos in the Namib desert (right) is a typical shot.

There's something magical and awe-inspiring about seeing strange and elusive wildlife close-up; and yet, in a world where animals are still victim to man's indifferent cruelty, it is unsurprising to see some quite appalling images too. Witness Martin Harvey's Poached White Rhino (winner of the Wildlife in Trade section - a title that, Bill Oddie considers, can "hardly convey the horror that this picture depicts"). And yet this close-up of a rhino slaughtered for its horn is marginally less shocking than the Gorilla Head picture by Karl Ammann of Switzerland.

"The image is unbearable and what it tells is unspeakable," warns judge Julian Pettifer. "Ammann was staying in a village in Southern Cameroon when he heard of a local man who had just shot a female gorilla for his local police chief. As payment, he kept the head of the gorilla and one of her arms. By the time Ammann arrived, the arm had been eaten, but he'd arranged the head on his kitchen shelf, garnished with a bunch of bananas." As a small blight on a magnificent display, it's all the more poignant.

JANE RICHARDS

Natural History Museum, London SW7 (0171-938 8714) to 25 Feb 1996

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