15 unsung heroes of the animal kingdom

Incredible creatures that deserve the spotlight, chosen by Tim Laman, Daisy Gilardini, Art Wolfe, Chris Packham...
By Graeme Green

1: Proboscis Monkey

By Tim Laman

“One species I’ve photographed that deserves more attention is the proboscis monkey of Borneo. This is a fascinating primate that has webbed feet, so it can swim across rivers. It has a huge nose that gives it its name. And it’s one of the world’s lesser known monkey species that are endangered.

They’re not exactly the most attractive monkeys, with their strange nose, but they’re fascinating in their behaviour and quite photogenic, as they have a lush orange-ish coat. You can get spectacular photographs as they make big leaps across small creeks and sometimes don’t make it, landing in the water with a huge splash.

This unique primate’s only found in Borneo. It’s got a limited distribution and also comes into conflict with humans who’ve developed the coastal riverine forest areas.”  

2: Pigeon

By Richard Peters

“For me, the common pigeon is an unsung hero. Often overlooked or just simply photographed on a whim, these birds are not only full of character but can produce very evocative images in the right context or situation.

The same is true of any subject but often it’s easier to ‘see’ the evocative shots in your mind’s eye with the more exotic species.

Pigeons have wonderful colours on their necks and really quite amusing looks on their faces, especially when they tilt their heads. Also, they do make quite beautiful shapes with their wings as they ungracefully fly through the air.”

3: Pangolin

By Jen Guyton

“Pangolins are the best combination of weird and wonderful. They’re mammals that are covered in scales, like a reptile. They have sticky pink tongues that are longer than their bodies. Some species walk on their hind legs and hold their enormous claws in front of them like tiny T-Rexes. And their only defence is to roll tightly into a little armoured ball. They have no close relatives. They’re entirely their own thing.

I still meet a lot of people who’ve never heard of pangolins. They’re the most trafficked mammal in the world. All of the world’s eight pangolin species are endangered, some of them critically endangered, because of the wildlife trade. In Asia, they’re coveted for their meat, which is considered a delicacy, and their scales, which are wrongly believed to be medicinal – they’re made of keratin, the same material as fingernails. It couldn’t be more urgent to elevate these underdogs to the recognition they deserve.”

4: Red Fox

By Chris Packham

“I’ve spent more time photographing foxes than any other mammal. They are astonishingly beautiful. I always say a fox can hold a torch to a tiger. They’re a bigger part of my life than those creatures which are well-known for being nature’s greatest masterpieces, like the tiger.

The red fox is a remarkably adaptable species. Here in the UK, it’s an animal that even some of our urban and city dwellers share their space with.

We need to change people´s perceptions of them. In the UK, the red fox continues to be needlessly persecuted, horribly hunted and demonized, yet it’s the most successful small canid in the world. It’s ecology and behaviour need to be better understood, so we can ensure we change the reputation of this animal and it can continue to prosper.”

5: Indiana Bat

By Art Wolfe

“Indiana bats hibernate in caves in the US, which is where I crawled to photograph them. I had 15 minutes to get the shot because excess heat would wake up the tightly-packed bats and cause them to use energy they needed to survive through the winter.

They’re endangered and in serious decline because of white-nose syndrome and loss of habitat. Most people have an aversion to these tiny flying mammals, which is unfortunate, as a bat colony can consume vast numbers of insects every night – no pesticides needed.

In summer, the bats roost in trees, attics, utility poles and bat boxes. It would be great if people could be kind and put up a bat box to give these guys a better chance.”

6: Blue-Eyed Angle-Headed Lizard

By Graeme Green

“The blue-eyed angle-headed lizard is a mesmerising little creature to look at. I came across one in Gunung Mulu National Park in the rainforest of Malaysian Borneo. I was there to photograph the natural phenomenon of the bat exodus, where, each evening, thousands of bats swarm out of the giant Deer Cave to feed on insects.

On the way to the caves, I noticed Ol’ Blue Eyes. I love the texture and pattern of the skin and scales, the round spots on the body, the spines and the blue eye, looking back at me.

This lizard was a reminder that it always pays to look around, as there are many unsung heroes of wildlife to be found, besides the main attractions, that are just as deserving of our time. You just need to keep your eyes and mind open.”

7: Grevy’s Zebra

By Marina Cano

“When we think of zebras, we usually imagine large groups of them, running free and numerous in Africa. That’s the reality when it comes to the common zebra, but not with the Grevy’s zebra. The Grevy’s zebra is the most threatened of the three zebra species.

Populations dropped from 15,000 in the 1970s to the estimated 2500 Grevy’s living in the wild today. They can be found in Ethiopia and Kenya, where they’re protected from hunting. They’re taller and have bigger ears than the common ones. Also, their stripes are thinner and don’t cross under the belly. They’re very elegant and playful.

This beautiful animal is endangered and part of international conservation efforts.”

8: Black Snub-Nosed Monkey

By Xi Zhinong

 “Yunnan has the most biodiversity of any area in China. It’s a hotspot from ancient times. You can call the Yunnan province the ‘Kingdom of wildlife’, with many different wildlife species represented, including several different species of gibbons and snub-nosed monkeys.

The Yunnan snub-nosed monkey, also known as the black snub-nosed monkey, should be known as the ‘King’ of the Yunnan wildlife kingdom. They’re the monkeys living at the highest altitude of all the snub-nosed family. They live in the snow mountain area. And the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey is a monkey that’s the most alike to humans. They have red lips, pink cheeks, and on the heads of male, they have the hairstyle of Beckham.”

9: Glass Frogs

By Daisy Gillardini

“Frogs are an animal that’s just incredible for the ecosystem. All through my career I focused in the Artic and Antarctica. But since I was a kid, I’ve been collecting frogs and I have a huge collection of frogs, and last year, I finally made it to Costa Rica.

I found it extremely difficult and challenging to photograph frogs. But they really are the unseen heroes of the ecosystem. They’re so important. They are indicators of an ecosystem’s health. They can’t thrive in pollution because their skin is permeable, so any pollutant is going to kill them. It’s a good sign of a healthy environment if we have frogs

They’re all so cute. I love them all. But I’ll single out glass frogs. Glass frogs are tiny little frogs with amazing eyes and a transparent belly.”

10: Serval

By Clement Wild

“The serval cat is a beautiful cat. It’s stunning just to look at it. I’ve actually had the pleasure of seeing it out and about, stalking little rats in the grass.

It’s a fantastic cat but not many people know about it. I’ve had guests who were very surprised and thought it was some sort of small cheetah.

I’ve photographed it a few times, though not so much, because it’s such a small cat and it always disappears in the grass, so it’s not easy to spot it. But I’ve had opportunities to take good photographs.  

It’s very striking. It has beautiful colours. If you’ve seen a tiger, it’s almost that same type of golden. For such a small cat to have such vibrant colours, it’s beautiful to look at.”

11: Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth

By Suzi Eszterhas

“On a remote island off the coast of Panama, I had the incredible experience of swimming alongside a pygmy three-toed sloth. This species is critically endangered and found nowhere else in the world.

Though all sloths can swim, pygmy sloths swim most often, in order to get around their mangrove habitat. They’re also the smallest sloth in the world, about 30 per cent smaller than their mainland counterparts.

I took this photo while working with Dr. Rebecca Cliffe, sloth expert and founder of the Sloth Conservation Foundation, of which I’m a proud trustee.” 

12: Black-Backed Jackal 

By Anja Denker

“Black-backed jackals are very prolific in Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. They belong to the canid family and are classified by many people, especially farmers, as vermin, due to the fact that they prey on the young of livestock, as well as wildlife, causing huge stock losses. They are therefore hunted relentlessly: trapped, poisoned, shot and snared.

They are beautiful and resourceful animals, very opportunistic and smart as they try and eek out an existence in the face of relentless persecution. I admire their tenacity, energy, adaptability and clever resourcefulness, as well as their beautiful golden eyes. I can’t imagine the African bush without their haunting, iconic howls as night falls.”

13: Peregrine Falcon

By Bertie Gregory

“The Peregrine falcon is the fastest animal on Earth. Cities are generally terrible places for wildlife. But there are a handful of animals that really do thrive in cities, and Peregrine falcons are a great example. It’s a pigeon-killing machine. They do really well in cities because there’s lots of food for them and nesting habitat in the form of big skyscrapers that they see as their natural cliff homes.

Films about really wild far off places that most people will never visit can be, in a way, disconnecting. Whereas urban wildlife provides a bridge between wildlife and our very disconnected modern day society. Even in the middle of the city you can go out and find wildlife.

I get the same buzz from seeing a Peregrine falcon in the city as I do seeing a polar bear in a wild place.”

14: Red Panda

By Christian Ziegler

“I’ll choose the red panda. Pictures of this shy mammal in the wild are so rare. I want to see images of animals in their natural habitat, which is surprisingly rare for many species. I captured some images of red pandas in one of my camera traps in Bhutan last year and I was delighted.

I read a few weeks ago that scientists have described two different species of red panda: the Chinese red panda and the Himalaya red panda. The Himalayan red panda is distributed in Nepal, Bhutan, northern India, northern Myanmar, Tibet and the western Yunnan province of China, while the Chinese red panda inhabits the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces of China. This has important implications for conservation of these species – the Himalayan species is endangered because it has a very small distribution and low population density.”

15: Dholes

By Shannon Wild

“Before arriving in southern India to film an elusive black panther, I’d never heard of dholes, also known as Indian wild dogs. So when I saw my first pack of these charismatic dogs, I was completely mesmerised.

They actually reminded me of small dingoes. They have the same coat colour, but they’re much smaller, about the size of a jackal.

Sadly, they are listed as endangered by the IUCN because populations are decreasing. There are estimated to be fewer than 2,500 adults. Factors contributing to this decline include habitat loss, loss of prey, competition with other species, persecution due to livestock predation and disease transfer from domestic dogs. That’s another reason why being able to witness and document them in the wild was such a privilege.”

Lead picture by Suzi Eszterhas: Instagram: @suzieszterhas.

Tim Laman: Instagram: @timlaman.

Richard Peters: Instagram: @richardpetersphoto.

Jen Guyton: Instagram: @jenguyton.

Chris Packham: Instagram: @chris.packham.

Art Wolfe: Instagram: @artwolfe.

Graeme Green: Instagram:

Marina Cano: Instagram: @marinacano.

Daisy Gilardini: Instagram: @daisygilardini.

Xi Zhinong: Facebook: wildchinafilm.

Clement Wild: Instagram: @clement.wild.

Anja Denker: @wild.anjadenker.

Bertie Gregory: Instagram: @bertiegregory.

Christian Ziegler: Instagram: @christianziegler.

Shannon Wild: Instagram: @shannon__wild.

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NOTE: The best way to solve the crises facing the planet and its wildlife is by having open, honest, respectful conversations and hearing diverse voices from around the world. The New Big 5 project does not necessarily support or agree with every opinion or idea expressed by photographers, conservationists or organisations featured on the New Big 5 website. The many different wildlife charities, photographers, film-makers and conservationists we’ve collaborated with also do not necessarily support or agree with every idea or opinion expressed by other people or organisations on the website. It’s ok to disagree and debate. But we hope the opinions and ideas can inspire people, make people think, and be part of the conversation to help our planet and the animals that live on it.

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