02/10/1997 at 01:00 AM EST
DOLPHINS DON'T HAVE AGENTS. LEMURS AREN'T STICKLERS for picture approval. Wild hares won't demand a catered buffet. Maybe that's why so many gifted photographers focus their lenses not on models who are beasts but on beasts who are—at least in a new photo book—entrancing models. Wildlife Photographer of the Year (Fountain, $42) showcases 150 of the best pictures from the annual competition sponsored by British Gas and organized by the BBC's Wildlife magazine and London's Natural History Museum. The book's intimate photos—two ground squirrels waltzing like Fred and Ginger, a brown bear (below) scratching an itch in Alaska's McNeil River Game Sanctuary—demonstrate that animals are naturals when it comes to projecting raw beauty and ravishing grace.
"They make great subjects because they don't pose for you," says Texan Greg Pierson, 33, who snapped the itchy bear. "They go about their business and ignore people. It's totally natural behavior." Not that capturing wildlife on film doesn't have its downside. "I had to drop my camera and run from a bull elk once," says Pierson. "When they're in breeding season, they can get pretty belligerent." At least bull elks don't get hefty per diems.