In its 54th year, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition is the world's longest running nature photography competition. This year's winning image, an extraordinary picture of two golden snub-nosed monkeys in central China, affirms this competition's place as one of the most spectacular annual celebrations of nature.

The competition was originally started by BBC Wildlife Magazine in 1965, and in 1984 the Natural History Museum came on board to help make it the massively impressive event that it is today. The competition is divided between Adult and Youth sections, with 16 Adult categories ranging from Animal Portraits to Urban Wildlife.

The big award is the Photographer of the Year, with a £10,000 (US$13,000) prize. This year's top award went to Dutch photographer Marsel van Oosten, with an image titled The Golden Couple. Captured in China's Qinling Mountains, the gorgeous photograph immortalizes a pair of endangered golden snub-nosed monkeys, of which a population of only around 22,000 remain.

'This image is in one sense traditional – a portrait," says Chair of the judging panel, Roz Kidman Cox. "But what a striking one, and what magical animals. It is a symbolic reminder of the beauty of nature and how impoverished we are becoming as nature is diminished. It is an artwork worthy of hanging in any gallery in the world."

The overall Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year winning image (seen above) is just as sublime. From 16 year old South African photographer, Skye Meaker, it is a captivating shot of a leopard waking from a nap in Botswana. Judge Alexander Badyaev, comments on Meaker's winning image, "With precisely executed timing and composition, we get a coveted glimpse into the inner world of one of the most frequently photographed, yet rarely truly seen, animals."

Other incredible winning shots, selected from more than 45,000 entries, include a spectacular overhead shot of crabeater seals resting on an ice floe (above), a heart-wrenching image of a female mountain gorilla mourning her deceased baby, and a remarkable look at the mud-handling skills of mud-dauber wasps.

London-based readers can check out all 99 of the top photographs in this year's competition right now at the Natural History Museum. Entries for next year's competition open on October 22.

Take a look through our gallery at some more incredible highlights from this remarkable competition.

View gallery - 14 images