Wildlife lovers around the world have chosen a New Big 5.
After a year-long global vote, the results are now in…
The ‘Big 5’ is an old term used by trophy hunters in Africa for the five most prized and dangerous animals to shoot and kill: elephant, rhino, leopard, Cape buffalo and lion.
The New Big 5 project has a better idea: to create a New Big 5 of Wildlife Photography, rather than hunting. Shooting with a camera, not a gun.
More than 250 global photographers, conservationists and wildlife charities have come together to support this international initiative.
Created by British photographer Graeme Green, the project’s aim is to raise awareness about the crisis facing the world’s wildlife from threats including habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, poaching, illegal wildlife trade and climate change.
Since launching in April 2020, wildlife lovers and photographers around the world have voted on the New Big 5 website for the 5 animals they want to be included in the New Big 5 of Wildlife Photography.
The results are:
Dr Jane Goodall (Founder, The Jane Goodall Institute )
“We now have the results of the New Big 5 project. These 5 animals – elephants, polar bears, gorillas, tigers and lions – are such beautiful and remarkable species, and are wonderful ambassadors for the world’s wildlife, from iconic species to little-known frogs, lizards, fish and birds. So many face threats to their survival from issues such as poaching, habitat loss and climate change. A million species are at risk of extinction. If we work together, we can stop this happening. There is always hope. Change is possible if we each play our part.”
Each of the 5 species in the New Big 5 face severe threats to their existence and are listed by the IUCN either as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable
One million species currently face the threat of extinction. The animals in the New Big 5 can serve as global ambassadors for all the world’s wildlife and the crisis they face.
Marsel van Oosten (photographer)
“We’re currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. But unlike those past mass extinctions, the current crisis is almost entirely caused by us: humans. The New Big 5 consists of elephants, polar bears, gorillas, tigers and lions – some of the most iconic animals on our planet. They’re a stark reminder of what’s at stake if we don’t change our ways. That’s how I will look at each of them, as beautiful representatives of the many thousands of other, often lesser-known species who desperately need our help.”
All 5 animals are keystone species, essential to the balance of nature in their habitats, biodiverse ecosystems and the survival of other species. Each species is vital to the health of the planet and to our future.
Graeme Green (photographer / Founder, New Big 5 project)
“The 5 animals that wildlife lovers around the world have voted to include in the New Big 5 of Wildlife Photography – elephants, gorillas, tigers, lions and polar bears – are not just some of the most beautiful, incredible animals on the planet. All 5 also face serious threats to their existence. The New Big 5 are the tip of the iceberg. They stand for all the creatures on the planet, so many of which are in danger. From bees to blue whales, all wildlife is essential to the balance of nature, to healthy ecosystems and to the future of our planet.”
The New Big 5 also offers a new Bucket List for travellers, wildlife lovers and photographers to experience in their lifetime. Tourism funds much of the world’s vital conservation work. The New Big 5 encourages travellers to visit the places where these five animals live, support conservation efforts, and learn about all the wildlife there and the threats they face.
The New Big 5 project’s website has become “a platform to bring like-minded people together and create a wave of change,” with articles, interviews, podcasts and photo galleries highlighting issues threatening the world’s wildlife and covering ideas and solutions, such as rewilding, cutting edge technology and community projects.
Graeme Green (photographer / Founder, New Big 5 project)
“Thank you to all the incredible photographers, conservationists and charities who have been part of the New Big 5 project and to all the wildlife lovers around the world who’ve given their support.”
THE 5 ANIMALS IN THE NEW BIG 5 OF WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY
Elephants are the largest living land mammal on Earth. Intelligent and emotional animals, they’re ‘ecosystem engineers’ that spread seeds and modify landscapes.
There are an estimated 447,500 elephants left on the planet, including 415,000 African elephants (down from 1.2 million in the 1970s) and 30,000-35,000 Asian elephants. The African forest elephant is now listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered and the African savanna elephant as Endangered, following dramatic declines over several decades. An estimated 55 African elephants per day are still being killed by poachers – one every 26 minutes. Habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict are also major threats.
The total number of Sumatran elephants is estimated to be around 1400, with less than 10 years to save the subspecies.
Iain Douglas-Hamilton (Founder / Chief Scientist, Save The Elephants): “I’m delighted people around the world have voted for elephants. Elephants face severe threats to their existence. It’s vital to get rid of the demand for ivory once and for all. We need to stop the killing, stop the trafficking and decrease the demand for ivory. Habitat loss is another serious challenge, linked to human-wildlife conflict, in which elephants are often killed or injured. We need to preserve wild spaces and corridors where elephants can roam freely and safely. Africa’s elephants are still endangered and their future is far from assured. They could be lost in a human lifetime unless humanity cares enough to prevent it from happening.”
Dr Paula Kahumbu (CEO / Founder of Wildlife Direct): “I’m thrilled to announce that elephants are one of the New Big 5 of Wildlife Photography. Elephants are among the most important species in Africa and Asia for maintaining incredible habitats and environments, and what great ambassadors they are for wildlife the world over. But elephants are in distress. They’re poached for their ivory, their habitats are disappearing and they’re being killed as a result of human-wildlife conflict. To save elephants, we have to all step up to protect them.”
Dr Jane Goodall (Founder, The Jane Goodall Institute): “The elephant is so majestic. So many have been killed for their tusks, not only by poachers but also by trophy hunters. I love photos where an older elephant rests his trunk on a tusk, or young ones playing. What a dynamic contrast these photos are to the terrible photos of a dead body, trunk cut off and thrown aside, tusks dug out.”
Marina Cano (photographer): “I love elephants. This beautiful huge animal can be so tender, so gentle and emotional. From a photographic point of view, they’re awesome. I love their faces, their skin, the beauty of their bodies, the young ones playing in water, the adults doing their dust bath. It’s terrible the situation they’re facing right now with the ivory trade. Currently, it’s estimated around 55 elephants a day are being killed in Africa. At this rate, there could be no more elephants left in Africa. We can’t allow this to happen.”
Angela Sheldrick (CEO, Sheldrick Wildlife Trust): “Elephants are the Gardeners of Eden, with so much dependent upon their very existence.”
Polar bears are the world’s largest carnivores. Scientists estimate the global polar bear population is around 23,315 bears. The IUCN lists the polar bear as a Vulnerable species. There has been an estimated decline of 40 per cent in some polar bear populations, such as the Southern Beaufort Sea.
Sea ice loss from climate change is the biggest threat to their survival. These Arctic wanderers are technically marine mammals. They rely on the Arctic’s frozen surfaces to hunt, travel, breed and raise their young. A recent study found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue as they are, most polar bear populations could disappear by 2100 due to sea ice loss from global warming.
Other threats include: human-polar bear conflict, as the Arctic warms and more polar bears spend more time ashore; industrial activity, including oil drilling, which can disturb dens, reducing cubs’ chances of survival; pollution; and disease.
Krista Wright (Executive Director, Polar Bears International): “I’m so excited polar bears are part of the New Big 5. They’re keenly intelligent and endlessly fascinating to photograph and watch. Polar bears are also a powerful symbol of sea ice loss from global climate warming and a poignant messenger on the urgent need to act. In order to protect polar bears, we need to protect the sea ice they depend upon. If we work together, we can ensure polar bears roam the Arctic sea ice for generations to come. By taking action on climate change, we’ll not only ensure the polar bear’s future, but help people too. A future that supports polar bears will be a future that is better for all of us.”
Jennifer Morgan (Executive Director, Greenpeace International): “Polar bears are among the most beautiful, exciting animals on Earth. Their features stand out so remarkably against the Arctic’s landscape. They’re hugely powerful, while deeply affectionate. Polar bears are highly vulnerable to climate change and its impacts. The disappearance of vast areas of sea ice across the Arctic, caused by global warming, makes life more difficult and can mean it’s impossible for them to hunt, reducing their chances of survival. Polar bears are at real risk of extinction. When I see them in vulnerable situations, my heart hurts.”
Daisy Gilardini (photographer): “I’m delighted people around the world have voted for polar bears to be one of the New Big 5 of Wildlife Photography, not only because they’re my favourite animals but because they need to be protected. Polar bears face unprecedented challenges in their fight for survival, mostly related to human activities: habitat loss due to climate change, ingestion of toxic pollutants through the food chain, and hunting. Thanks to initiatives like the New Big 5, we’ve been given an opportunity to lend a voice to creatures that can’t speak for themselves. We’re ambassadors on their behalf, helping raise awareness of the serious issues they face on a daily basis.”
Ole Jørgen Liodden (photographer): “I’m very happy people have voted for the polar bear to be in the New Big 5 of Wildlife Photography. Polar bears are beautiful and remarkable animals. Although climate change is the greatest threat to polar bears, hundreds of them are also hunted and killed for the commercial fur trade. With populations declining, every polar bear counts. I’d like to see more protection for these magnificent animals.”
Paul Nicklen (photographer): “I’m forever grateful to the powerful, majestic polar bears I’ve met for allowing me intimate glimpses into their lives. Many indigenous cultures consider them to be miraculous and shamanic. I’m only the latest in a long line of human beings to appreciate these animals. Whenever I have the opportunity to get up close and discover the wisdom in their eyes, there’s never any question why.”
Gorillas are the world’s largest primate. They share more than 98 per cent of their DNA with humans. Gorillas are vital to forest habitats, controlling plant growth and distributing seeds.
Mountain gorillas are found in just three countries: Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Their two ranges total less than 300 square miles, around one tenth of Yellowstone National Park in the United States.
Mountain gorilla populations are slowly recovering. They’ve been moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered due to effective conservation efforts. The last census of mountain gorillas put their number at 1,063.
Grauer’s gorillas are only found in DRC. Listed as Critically Endangered, there are an estimated 3,800 Grauer’s gorillas remaining, a drop of 80 per cent in two decades.
Gorilla populations are losing their habitat, due to human encroachment, mining and climate change. They sometimes suffer injury and death from snares left by poachers hunting for bushmeat.
Dr Tara Stoinski (President / CEO, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund): “I’m absolutely delighted gorillas are part of the New Big 5. Gorillas are incredible, intelligent, caring animals. They share more than 98 per cent of our DNA. Unfortunately, both species of gorillas – eastern gorilla and western gorilla – are Critically Endangered, the last step before extinction in the wild. Luckily, mountain gorilla numbers are increasing, showing conservation can succeed when we work together. Their cousins, the Grauer’s gorillas, are facing a dire future. They’re only found in DR Congo. In the past 25 years, their numbers have plummeted by around 80 per cent, primarily a result of poaching. Gorillas are the gardeners of Africa’s immense rainforests, which are essential for thousands of other species that live there, from chimpanzees to forest elephants. We also need these forests to remain healthy and biodiverse because our own survival depends on them. If we can save gorillas and their forest home, we may just save ourselves, too.”
Brent Stirton (photographer): “Spending time with mountain gorillas and having a Silverback look you in the eye is a completely human experience for me. When you have that kind of experience with an animal and you see the intelligence and understand that these are sentient creatures, you known they deserve every bit of consideration that we would have for humans.”
Marcus Westberg (photographer): “The great apes are our closest relatives, living reminders that we are part of, and not apart from, the rest of the natural world. These are the world’s largest primates, full of curiosity and compassion, and if we cannot feel a strong connection to them, what hope do we have?”
Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka (Founder / CEO, Conservation Through Public Health): “I’m so happy gorillas have been included in the New Big 5. Gorillas are majestic animals but also vulnerable because they’re so few in number. A good photograph can bring out their personalities and inspire people to protect them. Both species of gorillas – eastern gorilla and western gorilla – are Critically Endangered. Mountain gorilla numbers are increasing slowly. But Grauer’s gorillas face dangerously low numbers. We must do everything we can to ensure gorillas have a future with us on the planet.”
Usha Harish (photographer): “There seems to spring a bond gorillas and people, peeling back the eons of human evolution, gazing at our very roots as a species. Spending time with gorillas is an experience that’s meditative and almost spiritual in its intensity.”
Nelis Wolmarans (photographer): “Gorillas are gentle giants and the stuff that legends are made of. They are all the good that we wish to see in another person. Their presence alone creates feelings that encompass fear and compassion and every other emotion in-between. To sit within a few feet of a majestic 500-pound Silverback and to experience the tolerance and curiosity that they have for us is something that you simply can’t explain adequately to someone who has not yet been to see them. With them sharing 98.4 per cent of our genetic make-up, to me, photographing them is more a case of photographing someone than something.”
African lion numbers have declined by around 50 per cent in the last 25 years. Lions occupy just eight per cent of their historic range. Recent estimates suggest there are around 20,000-25,000 lions remaining in the wild, though there could be fewer than 20,000. Bushmeat hunting (which reduces lions’ prey), habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict are all major factors. The poaching of lions for body parts for traditional practices in Africa and the Asian medicine market is also emerging in some African countries.
Outside of Africa, lions are only found in Gir National Park in India, where there are around 670 lions.
Lions are an apex predator, maintaining a stable balance of predator and prey, stopping herbivores degrading vegetation.
Dr Shivani Bhalla (Founder / Executive Director of Ewaso Lions): “I’m so excited lions are in the New Big 5 because lions need all the attention they can get. They’re in serious trouble. The large prides I used to see as a child are disappearing. Lions are icons of what it means to be wild. They’re a keystone species and extremely important for healthy ecosystems. It would be a tragedy to lose lions across our continent. But I hope that by coming together and giving lions the attention they deserve, we can address these threats and ensure lions are free to roam across Africa’s spectacular landscapes. We can’t let them disappear.”
Melissa Groo (photographer): “There is no creature more powerful, more sexy and more iconic than the African lion. We’re privileged to share this Earth with them.”
Graeme Green (photographer / Founder, New Big 5 project): “Lions are powerful animals, but also capable of gentle, affectionate behaviour. Maybe because they look so strong, many people think they’re doing fine. But like many other species currently, their numbers are declining rapidly. I hope we can help turn the tide for lions and other species, all of which are too valuable to lose.”
Peter Lindsey (Director, Lion Recovery Fund): “Lions are the symbol of Africa’s wilderness. One thing that grabs me about them is how amazing it is that such a majestic, wild and terrifying creature still roams the planet. How privileged we are. However, lion numbers have declined by about half in the last 25 years. They are the consummate umbrella species: if we can protect savannah ecosystems sufficiently to support lion populations, other species will also thrive.”
Of all the big cats, the tiger is the closest to extinction. Tigers are listed globally as Endangered on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. There are only around 3,900 tigers left in the wild globally. There are an estimated 20,000 tigers in captivity globally, many of them in Tiger King-style ‘zoos’ and ‘sanctuaries’ in the US or kept as pets.
The illegal wildlife trade in tiger bones, skins and other products, for traditional Chinese ‘medicine’ or decorations, in China, Vietnam and other parts of Asia continue to drive the rapid decline. Habitat destruction and fragmentation, and human-wildlife conflict, also add to the crisis. Only seven per cent of tigers’ historical range is intact today.
In India, tiger numbers are stable. Wild tigers have been largely wiped out in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and China. The Malayan (150-200 left) and Sumatran (300-370) sub-species are listed as Critically Endangered.
Like lions, tigers maintain an ecosystem’s balance of predator and prey.
Simon Clinton (Founder, Save Wild Tigers): “The largest, yet most endangered, of all the world’s big cats is on the edge of extinction. Wildlife crime, caused by the demand for tiger bones, skins and products, like tiger bone wine, in China and Vietnam, is fuelling the crisis. In many countries, the tiger has a higher value dead than alive. Poaching is out of control, with little political will to reverse the dire situation. Habitat destruction and disruption are also major issues. 2022 marks the next Year of the Tiger. I fear that by 2034, the following Year of the Tiger, tigers will be extinct in the wild in every one of their tiger range countries, apart from India, unless urgent action is taken in the next five years. That stunning photo in a distant gallery may be all we leave future generations.”
Vivek Menon (Founder / Executive Director, Wildlife Trust of India): “I’m so pleased that tigers are in the New Big 5. Tigers are such fascinating incredible animals. It’s also a flagship species for the conservation of their habitats and all other life that exists there. Poaching for tigers’ body parts has taken a heavy toll for an animal already threatened by forest loss and degradation, by the fall in its prey numbers due to hunting, and from human-animal conflict. There are less than 4000 tigers left in the wild around the world. In India, they’re threatened by habitat loss and poaching. Sumatran tigers are even more critically endangered. I’m so happy they’ve been given the importance they deserve.”
Valmik Thapar (conservationist / author): “I’m delighted tigers have been chosen as one of the New Big 5. The beauty of a tiger in every photo promotes conservation, so if you want save the world’s most charismatic species, get your camera and go and find the tiger.”
Shibu Preman (photographer): “Tigers face many threats to their survival and a highly uncertain future. To save them and celebrate them, I nominate the tiger as the captain to lead the New Big 5.”
Farwiza Farhan (Founder, Forest, Nature and Environment of Aceh (HAkA)): “Tigers are the big predator at the top of the food chain. They play an important role to keep the ecosystem in balance. The Sumatran tiger is one of four key endangered species in Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem in Indonesia, along with the Sumatran orangutan, Sumatran Rhino and Sumatran Elephant, who all need urgent attention. It’s the last place on Earth where they all still roam wild.”
BEYOND THE NEW BIG 5
The 5 animals in the New Big 5 are the tip of the iceberg in the crisis facing the world’s wildlife. The goal of the New Big 5 project is to raise awareness about the many different species facing problems, from pangolins, orangutans and rhinos to little-known, under-appreciated species.
· There are around 13,800 Sumatran orangutans and 800 Tapanuli orangutans left in the wild, both classified as Critically Endangered.
· Fewer than 7,500 cheetahs remain in the wild, down from 100,000 only a century ago.
· West African giraffes are down to just 600.
· Around 200,000 pangolins, the most trafficked mammal in the world, are being killed each year for traditional ‘medicine’ and bushmeat.
· There are an estimated 28,000 rhinos left on the planet. Every day, on average, a rhino is illegally poached in Africa. Three rhino species are listed as Critically Endangered.
· There are only 500 Ethiopian wolves left in the wild.
· The latest IUCN Red List includes many less well-known species who have been placed in the higher Critically Endangered category, including the New Zealand long-tailed bat, Spineback guitarfish and Assam roof tortoise.
· Four species of shark (Caribbean reef, blacknose, night, Japanese topeshark…) are newly listed as Endangered.
· There are fewer than 11,000 Oriental white-backed in the wild, a decline of 99.9 per cent.
The New Big 5 has also tried to shine a light on conservation ideas, solutions and successes, from cutting edge tech to rewilding to community projects. As Jon Paul Rodríguez, Chair of the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC), says: “Conservation works. We just need to do more of it.”
· Canned lion hunting was just banned in South Africa, after years of campaigning.
· West African giraffes, who’d dropped to just 49 in Niger, now number around 600, thanks to government and community intervention.
· Mountain gorilla numbers are slowly rising; they’ve been reclassified as Endangered, rather than Critically Endangered.
· Rewilding projects from Argentina to Scotland to Romania are restoring nature and biodiversity, and reintroducing locally extinct species, from bison to jaguar to Scarlet macaws.
· New nature reserves and protected areas have been set up from Haiti to Tanzania to Belize, protecting coastal forests, rainforests, mountains and marine areas, and the creatures that live there.
· Since whaling was banned in 1986, humpback whale populations have recovered in the south Atlantic ocean, between Antarctica and South America, from just 440 in the 1950s to 25,000 today.
· Buying and selling ivory is now illegal in China, the world’s largest ivory market.
· New strategies, from Lion Lights to Beehive Fences, are helping people and animals coexist more safely.
· Conservationists are working around the clock to protect wildlife and wild places. Little-known species, including Jamaican rock iguana, Nassau grouper, Guam kingfisher, Weimang and tenkile, Kemo’s Ridley turtle and Lord Hose Island stick insects have all been increased or stabilised, saved from the brink of extinction, thanks to conservation measures.
The message of the New Big 5 project is that all life matters and needs to be protected. Change is possible.