The black bear emerges from his den, sleepy and slow-moving. His fur is matted and shaggy, and he’s mammoth, easily weighing over a couple hundred pounds. But this wild creature is not a denizen of the wilderness: His winter home lies underneath an abandoned house in South Lake Tahoe, California. This populous resort town offers plenty of garbage and easy-to-snag food, and as a result, these urban bears weigh about 25 percent more on average than their counterparts in wild areas.
Corey Arnold’s photograph offers an intimate look at the underappreciated animals that humans are increasingly sharing spaces with. The photo is one of 21 chosen by National Geographic’s photo editors as our favorite wildlife photos of 2022. (Related: See the best animal photos of 2021.)
Of course, most animals do better in the wild, especially when humans work to help the creatures—or merely leave them alone. Some animals that are benefiting from such approaches include the Iberian lynx, whose numbers are growing due to a large breeding and reintroduction effort in Spain and Portugal; leopards in India’s Nagarahole Tiger Reserve, which are rebounding thanks to improved anti-poaching measures that have boosted prey populations; and beautiful coral reef species such as red-tooth triggerfish, whose populations soar when marine reserves are established and harvesting dwindles.
Assistant managing editor Alexa Keefe sorted through thousands of photos to choose these, guided by a desire to show “all the roles animals play in our lives.” These selections “give us an opportunity to see animals in all the different ways they inhabit the planet, and all the intersections we have with them.”