By Crystal Chung @crystalkchung

THINGS are heating up at the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards as the shortlisted final 40 entries are revealed

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Four pigeon burrowing owls stare directly at photographer Mario Gustavo Fiorucci

This year’s competition has featured over 2200 hilarious entries from around the world with photos including a fox face planting in the snow, a dancing brown bear and a pair of seemingly headless penguins - all beautifully photographed with perfect comedy timing and a strong conservation message.

A fox finds itself in an unfortunate position as it face plants the snow

Last year’s Awards featured 1,502 entries which saw Austria’s Julian Rad taking first place with his memorable shot of a chubby-cheeked hamster running towards the camera. But the judges believe the bar has been raised even higher this year.

A large European Brown Bear is caught on camera dancing like nobody is watching

Judge, Tom Sullam said: “The standard has been even higher in this year’s competition. The number of images entered has gone up by over 700 and the new categories have created a broader selection of animals!

“Animals can make you laugh without even knowing why. It is the anthropomorphic behaviour. There is also such a broad range of animals, from so many countries, that it really raises the awareness of conservation on a global scale.

A leopard appears to get a huge surprise as it’s tackled to the ground by a fellow big cat

“Entries came from Argentina to Sweden, from the USA to Hungary, Australia to Russia, China to South Africa, and everywhere in between!”

The panel of judges is comprised of wildlife experts and household names and includes comedian Hugh Dennis, wildlife TV presenter Kate Humble, African landscape photographer Tom Sullam, and wildlife photographer and Comedy Wildlife Awards founder Paul Joynson-Hicks MBE.

Two rhinos organised back-to-back in defence formation seem to be the rarest creature in Africa

With over 2200 entries worldwide the task of picking the final 40 wasn’t an easy one for the judges.

Sullam explained: “Obviously there are a number of images that don’t make the final selection due to being out of focus, weak composition or maybe just not quite funny enough to get to the final 40.

One meerkat appears to have something to shout about as the other looks on

“Two judges do the pre-selection from the entries. These judges select their favoured images and then combine them to produce approximately 100 images. From these 100 the two judges discuss and refine until there are only 40 left.

“It is an extremely difficult task, particularly this year as so many images were so great.”

Anup Deodhar photographs a colourful reptile looking like a macho warrior

Working alongside international wildlife charity The Born Free Foundation, the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards hopes to share with the public the true playfulness of the animal kingdom.

However, there is a serious message behind the competition - to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the environment for the world’s creatures.

A little leopard tortoise looks excited to get a piggy back from a friend

Tom said: “It is such a positive upbeat competition that at the same time creates awareness and understanding of the wildlife that we share this planet with.

“Peoples' reactions to the competition are so positive that it reinforces our belief that images of animals being comical can really help develop a sense of conservation in everyone.”

A grizzly bear doing a bad job of catching a salmon at Brooks Falls

The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards evening will take place on November 9th 2016 and the overall winner will receive a stunning photographic safari holiday consisting of seven nights in Kenya's Masai Mara, courtesy of Alex Walker’s Serian, whose intimate safari camps are among the best in Africa.

A small bird takes break from flying as it perches on a buffalo’s head

The winner also receives return flights to Kenya from the UK courtesy of Kenya Airways, and a Nikon D810 body and 24-120mm f/4G ED VR AF-S NIKKOR lens courtesy of Nikon.

To find out more about the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards visit their website: www.comedywildlifephoto.com