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6 beautiful but devastating nature photos that you must see

Warning: Some people may find some of the images distressing.

THE WORLD PRESS PHOTO competition announced its winners earlier this month, with the news and sport categories getting the most attention for the work’s depiction of wars, loss, love, triumph and failure.

However, a number of very important animal rights and welfare issues were highlighted by the world’s best photographers and photojournalists during 2014.

Here are the six images which were recognised as part of the contest for the beautiful and human depictions of often cruel situations.

Monkey Training for a Circus

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Photographer: Yongzhi Chu/Zhejiang Daily Press Group

1st Prize, Nature, Singles

A monkey cowers as its trainer Qi Defang approaches during training for a circus in Suzhou, Anhui province, China. With more than 300 circus troupes, Suzhou is known as the hometown of the Chinese circus.

Orphaned Rhino

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Photographer: Ami Vitale/National Geographic

2nd, Nature, Singles

A group of young Samburu warriors encounter a rhino for the first time in their lives. Most people in Kenya never get the opportunity to see the wildlife that exists literally in their own backyard.

Organised by sophisticated, heavily armed criminal networks and fueled by heavy demand from newly minted millionaires in emerging markets, poaching is devastating the great animals of the African plains. Much needed attention has been focused on the plight of wildlife and the conflict between poachers and increasingly militarised wildlife rangers, but very little has been said about the indigenous communities on the frontlines of the poaching wars and the work that is being done to strengthen them. These communities hold the key to saving Africa’s great animals.

Indonesia’s Last Orangutans

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Photographer: Sandra Hoyn

3rd, Nature, Singles

Angelo, a 14-year-old male orangutan, waits for medical examinations at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program Center in North Sumatra, Indonesia. He was found with air gun metal pellets embedded in his body in a palm oil plantation. On the verge of extinction in the country, orangutans are one of many victims of massive deforestation in Indonesia, the market leader in global palm oil production.

Mindsuckers

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Photographer: Anand Varma

1st, Nature, Stories

An infected male sheep crab is feminised by a parasitic barnacle. It stops developing fighting claws, and its abdomen widens, providing a womb for the barnacle to fill with its brood pouch. Nurtured by the crab, the eggs hatch. Thousands of baby barnacles disperse to infect anew.

Parasites are often dismissed as vile, lowly bloodsuckers, but some of these creatures have evolved the incredible ability to manipulate the bodies and minds of their hosts. The enslaved hosts turn into bodyguards, feeding machines, and transport vessels for their parasite overlords.

Vegetables with an Attitude

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Photographer: Christian Ziegler/National Geographic Magazine

2nd, Nature, Stories

A Villose pitcher-plant (Nepenthes villas) grows among orchids at a 3,100-metre elevation on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu, Asia’s highest peak. Snails often use the pitchers of this species to lay their eggs in—a reliably moist and safe environment that is hard to find on the steep slopes with harsh sun and frequent downpours.

Carnivorous plants have evolved repeatedly in different parts of the world, always in response to super low nutrient environments. While other plants are struggling to find nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, carnivorous plants catch these themselves in ingenious ways. Until recently scientists thought they all operated in a similar way, catching bugs and digesting them. However, we are now discovering that things are much more complicated, with an amazing variety of complex plant-animal interactions.

Cold Blood Colombia

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Photographer: Paolo Marchetti

3rd, Nature, Stories

Here in the so-called “hall of sacrifice”, a worker’s job is to kill caimans with a knife cut to the neck.

Farm breeding of caimans has emerged as a result of intensive poaching that led to the extinction of some species. In Colombia, breeding has exponentially grown over the past decade, and the country is one of the few South American caiman exporters. Thousands of skins are produced annually for use in the fashion industry in Asian and European markets.

Earlier: 14 incredible winners from this year’s World Press Photo competition

Heartbreaking: Image of injured Phillip Hughes wins prestigious prize

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