- The people’s choice award in the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest was announced earlier this week.
- The winner is a photo of two male lions rubbing their noses together in Tanzania.
- Male lions live in small packs called “coalitions,” and they’re known to be pretty affectionate.
- The runner-up photos in the contest depict penguins, a polar bear, and two different types of canines.
Bromance is real. At least, it appears to be alive and well on the Serengeti in Tanzania.
Wildlife photographer David Lloyd from New Zealand captured the image above when he witnessed two male lions nuzzle up together for near 30 seconds.
Voters on the internet went wild for the image: a majority of 16,000 online vote-casters chose it over 24 other photos to win the Wildlife Photographer of the Year people’s choice award.
Lloyd said in an interview with the Natural History Museum that everything fell into place for this framing when one of the lions came from about 20 meters away to greet the other.
“What surprised me was that they nuzzled for almost half a minute” he said. “Usually, they just do it for about three or four seconds, and then they turn over and go back to sleep.”
Lion expert Craig Packer, who directs the Lion Research Center at the University of Minnesota, said the adorable behaviour shows a critical piece of the male lion social structure.
“Those are two coalition partners,” he told Business Insider via email. “Most likely they are brothers or cousins.”
While female lions live together in larger prides – permanent packs that include generations of sisters, mothers, daughters and more – men typically form smaller coalitions, which often consist of no more than two or three males.
Working together, the furry fraternity defends its pride (or multiple prides) from other warring coalitions.
The bonds between these lions typically go way back: they’re often born from the same pride, just months apart. But if a solo male lion is born, he might team up with another only child to form a new coalition.
However they get hooked up, “coalition partners are highly affectionate with each other,” Packer said. “We often see these sorts of greetings. We call them ‘head-rubs,’ and they are very endearing!”
Of course, lions aren’t the only animals out there who make for good photo subjects. Below are the four runner-ups from the people’s choice competition: