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Best Photos of 2016

Here is a gallery of National Geographic's 52 best images of the year—curated from 91 photographers, 107 stories, and 2,290,225 photographs.

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Kirill Vselensky perches on a cornice in Moscow as Dima Balashov gets the shot. The 24-year-olds, risktakers known as rooftoppers, celebrate their feats on Instagram.

This photo was originally published in "Why Many Young Russians See a Hero in Putin," in December 2016.

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As an evening storm lights up the sky near Wood River, Nebraska, about 413,000 sandhill cranes arrive to roost in the shallows of the Platte River.

This photo was originally published in "What Happens to the U.S. Midwest When the Water's Gone?," in August 2016.

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A diver keeps a close watch on a tiger shark in the Bahamas. But the scene may not be as dangerous as it looks: Tigers rely on surprise to hunt prey and are unlikely to attack divers who keep them in sight.

This photo was originally published in "He Went Face-to-Face With Tiger Sharks," in June 2016.

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Ye Ye, a 16-year-old giant panda, lounges in a wild enclosure at a conservation center in China’s Wolong Nature Reserve.

This photo was originally published in "Pandas Get to Know Their Wild Side," in August 2016.

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Eye-care workers use test-lens frames to conduct eye exams in India’s Sundarbans region. Their goal: to help reduce India’s blind population of more than eight million.

This photo was originally published in "Why There’s New Hope About Ending Blindness," in September 2016.

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Tempted by the fruit of a strangler fig, a Bornean orangutan climbs 100 feet into the canopy. With males weighing as much as 200 pounds, orangutans are the world’s largest tree-dwelling animals.

This photo was originally published in "Inside the Private Lives of Orangutans," in December 2016.

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A pet saddleback tamarin hangs on to Yoina Mameria Nontsotega as the Matsigenka girl takes a dip in the Yomibato River, deep inside Peru’s Manú National Park.

This photo was originally published in "This Park in Peru Is Nature ‘in Its Full Glory’—With Hunters," in June 2016.

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A refugee family lives amid the rubble in Ramadi, an Iraqi city leveled by ISIS’s destruction and bloodshed.

This photo was originally published in "Surviving the Fall of Isis," in October 2016.

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Parts of the Yellowstone region are wilder now than they’ve been in a century. Grizzlies are spreading. This one, in Grand Teton National Park, fends off ravens from a bison carcass. Workers moved it away from the road to keep scavengers and tourists apart.

This photo was originally published in "Learning to Let the Wild Be Wild in Yellowstone," in May 2016.

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Twilight bathes the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia at Delphi. Pilgrims in ancient Greece may have offered sacrifices here before consulting the oracle of Delphi.

This photo was originally published in "How the Greeks Changed the Idea of the Afterlife," in July 2016.

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A baby African white-bellied tree pangolin hitches a ride on its mother at Pangolin Conservation, a nonprofit organization in St. Augustine, Florida.

This photo was originally published in "Documenting the World’s Animals, One Picture at a Time," in April 2016.

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In Flint, Michigan, siblings Julie, Antonio, and India Abram collect their daily allowance of bottled water from Fire Station #3, their local water resource site.

This photo was originally published in "Intimate Portraits of Flint Show Frustration, Fear, Perseverance," in February 2016.

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Tortoises jockey for shelter from the sun. They will cook in their shells if they remain in the heat for too long.

This photo was originally published in "Cave-Dwelling Giant Tortoises Are a Big Surprise," in February 2016.

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A harvested bull elk and its prized antlers are transported the old-fashioned way—by mule. More than 72,000 hunters came to the lands around Yellowstone and Grand Teton in 2014.

This photograph was originally published in "How Ranching and Hunting Shape Protections for Bison and Elk," in May 2016.

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Igor Voronkin surfaces at the Barentsburg coal mine on Spitsbergen, in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Like most of the 400 other miners, he’s from eastern Ukraine.

This photo was originally published in "In the Arctic’s Cold Rush, There Are No Easy Profits," in March 2016.

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Photographs and paintings of sights such as this—the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone— inspired Congress to create the park in 1872. It was a revolutionary step.

This photo was originally published in "Learning to Let the Wild Be Wild in Yellowstone," in May 2016.

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Russia’s Bovanenkovo natural gas field, on the Yamal Peninsula, was deemed too expensive to develop until President Vladimir Putin made it a priority.

This photo was originally published in "In the Arctic’s Cold Rush, There Are No Easy Profits," in March 2016.

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An American crocodile rises from a bed of turtle grass to return to the labyrinth of mangrove roots that offer near-impenetrable shelter.

This photo was originally published in "Cuba’s Underwater Jewels Are in Tourism’s Path," in November 2016.

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The capital of Taiwan, Taipei comes to vibrant life when the sun goes down.

This photo was originally published in "Getaway Game: Taipei in 72 Hours," in National Geographic Traveler.

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The carcass of a bison that drowned in the Yellowstone River became a feast for this wolf and her two-year-old offspring.

This photo was originally published in "Yellowstone: Wild Heart of a Continent," in May 2016.

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Becky Weed and her husband, David Tyler, raise sheep near Yellowstone National Park. They ranch with a guard dog to ward off coyotes, bears, and mountain lions.

This photo was originally published in "Yellowstone's Future Hangs on a Question: Who Owns the West?" in May 2016.

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The colors of Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone come from thermophiles: microbes that thrive in scalding water.

This photo was originally published in "Learning to Let the Wild Be Wild in Yellowstone," in May 2016.

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Steven Donovan, flipping into a pool, took a seasonal job at Glacier National Park to sharpen his photography skills.

This photo was originally published in "Can the Selfie Generation Unplug and Get Into Parks?" in October 2016.

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Kirk Odom was convicted of rape after an expert testified that a hair on the victim’s nightgown matched his. He spent years in prison before DNA tests proved his innocence.

This photo was originally published in "How Science Is Putting a New Face on Crime Solving," in July 2016.

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In Alaska, a mother grizzly and her cubs cause a “bear jam” on Denali’s 92-mile-long Park Road, open to private vehicles only five days each summer.

This photo was originally published in "How Can 6 Million Acres at Denali Still Not Be Enough?" in February 2016.

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Virunga Park rangers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo undergo military-style training, including ambush tactics, due to the constant threat from armed groups.

This photo was originally published in "Inside the Fight to Save One of the World’s Most Dangerous Parks," in July 2016.

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Poachers killed this black rhinoceros for its horn with high-caliber bullets in South Africa’s Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. Black rhinos number only about 5,000 today.

This photo was originally published in "Special Investigation: Inside the Deadly Rhino Horn Trade," in October 2016.

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To track changes in sea ice, the Norwegian research vessel Lance drifted along with it for five months in 2015, on a rare voyage from Arctic winter into spring.

This photo was originally published in "Extreme Research Shows How Arctic Ice Is Dwindling," in January 2016.

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On a mountainside in Yosemite National Park, photographer Stephen Wilkes took 1,036 images over 26 hours to create this day-to-night composite.

This photo was originally published in "How National Parks Tell Our Story—and Show Who We Are," in January 2016.

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A worker uses a mallet to dislodge frozen tuna aboard a Chinese cargo vessel docked at the city of General Santos, in the Philippines.

This photo was originally published in "One of the World's Biggest Fisheries Is on the Verge of Collapse," in August 2016.

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Blood drips from a Rüppell’s vulture’s beak. The neck and head are sparsely feathered, which helps keep gore, guts, and fecal matter from clinging in a deep carcass dive.

This photo was originally published in "Vultures Are Revolting. Here’s Why We Need to Save Them." in January 2016.

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Dressed for Mars, space engineer Pablo de León tests a prototype space suit at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where fine soil and fans simulate conditions on the red planet.

This photo was originally published in "Mars: Inside the High-Risk, High-Stakes Race to the Red Planet," in November 2016.

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Villagers in Bagaran, Armenia, sing of cultural endurance and survival while picnicking at night beneath apricot trees—and a giant cross that shines defiantly into Turkey.

This photo was originally published in "A Century Later, Slaughter Still Haunts Turkey and Armenia," in April 2016.

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The nervous system of this common octopus is larger and more complex than most invertebrates’. Can it think? Is it conscious? Researchers wonder if we’ll ever know.

This photo was originally published in "Why Do Octopuses Remind Us So Much of Ourselves?" in November 2016.

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A curiosity, a portent, a looming symbol of the impending change: This May, for the first time in nearly four decades, an American cruise ship sailed into Havana Bay.

This photo was originally published in "Here Comes a Wave of Change for Cuba," in November 2016.

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Silversides swirl through mangroves in the coral reefs off Cuba. The finger-size fish form large schools to try to confuse predators.

This photo was originally published in "Cuba’s Underwater Jewels Are in Tourism’s Path," in November 2016.

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These rhinos on a South African ranch have recently had their horns trimmed. Unlike elephant ivory, rhino horn grows back when cut properly. The rancher is stockpiling the horn in hopes that selling it will soon be legal.

This photo was originally published in "Special Investigation: Inside the Deadly Rhino Horn Trade," in October 2016.

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Gerd Gamanab, 67, sought treatment too late: Years of labor in the Namibian sun and dust destroyed his corneas. His blindness likely could have been prevented.

This photo was originally published in "Why There’s New Hope About Ending Blindness," in September 2016.

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On their first migration to their summer range in southeastern Yellowstone, three-week-old calves of the Cody elk herd follow their mothers up a 4,600-foot slope.

This photo was originally published in "The Yellowstone We Don't See: A Struggle of Life and Death," in May 2016.

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Within sight of downtown Seoul, South Korea’s capital and a hub of modern stressful life, salesman Sungvin Hong rests after a hike in Bukhansan National Park.

This photo was originally published in "This Is Your Brain on Nature," in January 2016.

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Summer attracts sunbathers—clothed and otherwise—to the grassy banks of Munich’s Schwabinger Bach. The meadows here have been popular with nudists since the 1970s.

This photo was originally published in "How Urban Parks Are Bringing Nature Close to Home," in April 2016.

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Indigenous people farm and hunt in Peru's Manú forest but only for their own subsistence. Spider monkeys are a favorite quarry—and also favorite pets.

This photo was originally published in "This Park in Peru Is Nature ‘in Its Full Glory’—With Hunters," in June 2016.

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A girl watches as three Kurdish women are photographed with their faces hidden. Two of the women say they were forced to marry ISIS fighters before escaping to a refugee camp.

This photo was originally published in "Kurds Fight to Preserve 'the Other Iraq,'" in March 2016.

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With the help of a bloodhound, a ranger tries to track the poachers who killed this elephant and cut off part of its head to get away quickly with its ivory tusks.

This photo was originally published in "Inside the Fight to Save One of the World’s Most Dangerous Parks," in July 2016.

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A panda keeper in China uses a stuffed leopard to train young pandas to fear their biggest wild foe. A cub’s reactions help determine if the bear is ready to survive on its own.

This photo was originally published in "Pandas Get to Know Their Wild Side," in August 2016.

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At Fort Hall, Idaho, Leo Teton stands next to a pole ornamented with bison skulls, representing the spiritual connection between the Shoshone-Bannock tribe and bison.

This photo was originally published in "How Ranching and Hunting Shape Protections for Bison and Elk," in May 2016.

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Kids swim in a river where a bridge collapsed in Port Salut, Haiti. The city suffered serious damage from Hurricane Matthew, with many homes completely destroyed.

This photo was originally published in "Pictures Reveal Hurricane Matthew's Destruction in Haiti," in October 2016.

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Isra Ali Saalad moved from Somalia to Sweden with her mother and two siblings. “The reason we came to this country is because it is safe,” says her sister, Samsam.

This photo was originally published in "The New Europeans," in October 2016.

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A young Rüppell’s vulture eats a piece of zebra in the Serengeti. More dominant birds have taken their fill of the choice meat, leaving the skin and bones for other birds.

This photo was originally published in "Vultures Are Revolting. Here’s Why We Need to Save Them." in January 2016.

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Lounging in inches of warm water, blacktip reef sharks wait for the tide to refill the lagoon at Seychelles’ Aldabra Atoll.

This photo was originally published in "In the Seychelles, Taking Aim at Nature’s Bullies," in March 2016.

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As the train nears the end of the journey at Kashgar station, a child draws a heart in the desert sand that came along for the ride.

This photo was originally published in "Travel 3,000 Miles Through China’s Wondrous Wild West," in July 2016.

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