Image: Tom Svensson
Goal 15: Life On Land
Meet The New Big 5
These photographers are raising awareness about the most beautiful but endangered species on our planet
By hannah rochell
may 21 2021
This week we celebrate Endangered Species Day (May 21) and International Day for Biological Diversity (May 22), so it’s the perfect time to announce the winners of a photography project that aims to shift the narrative from trophy hunters’ hit list to the conservation of magnificent but endangered animals. The New Big 5 Project asked 50,000 people from all over the world to vote for the animals they’d most like to see photographed, and the winners are in.
Topping the list are elephant, lion, polar bear, gorilla and tiger. All of these beautiful animals are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as either critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. Now, they are being promoted as ambassadors for all wildlife and the difficulties Earth’s inhabitants are currently facing through habitat loss, poaching, human conflict, the illegal wildlife trade and the climate emergency. Over 250 photographers took part in the project; we spoke to four of them to find out why these incredible creatures make the perfect muses.
The Polar Bear, by Anette Mossbacher
image: Anette Mossbacher
‘We humans take too much for granted and need to change this. As a nature photographer, my aim is to bring more awareness and respect to wildlife and nature through my images.
Polar Bears are the majestic apex predators of the north. There are only 22,000 to 31,000 left in the world and to find them in such huge expanses of the Arctic is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Their quickly disappearing habitat is also making these impressive animals even more difficult to find. In order to spot them, you need to let them come to you, as they are not allowed to follow them, so it really is a privilege to be able to see and photograph them.
I titled this photograph "At The Edge" as it represents the polar bears’ present situation, living on the edge of extinction. Ice is disappearing, their prey is harder to find due to the northern ice cap melting and all that is left is this barren wilderness where these polar bears are fading away trying to survive.’
The Elephant, by Tom Svensson
image: Tom Svensson
‘The New Big 5 initiative is important to show the world that it is old-fashioned to trophy hunt and kill these amazing animals. The only way to shoot an animal is with a camera. This project is a really great one for saving them and celebrating them but most importantly to get people to understand the importance of biodiversity.
Elephants are such big characters and personalities, so it is fantastic to spend time with them and see how different they are and all the stuff they get up to. And also to see how intelligent they are but so humble and caring to each other; we have much to learn from them. I hope we can stop the illegal trade on them and on all other animals not just for them but for ourselves. If we hadn't had this trade we wouldn’t have had this pandemic. Now it is up to us.’
The Gorilla, by Nelis Wolmarans
image: Nelis Wolmarans
‘Gorilla photography holds a number of challenges which sets it apart from photographing big cats and other wildlife species out on the vast grass plains of the Serengeti and Maasai Mara. One of the biggest challenges is making it all come together within the one hour allocated time spent with these amazing creatures and I do love a challenge.
More importantly, photographing gorillas is not photographing another animal, it is photographing someone. They have such strong human-like emotions. To me, gorillas hold all the good characteristics, which we hope to see in other people: gentle, thoughtful, protective, caring and most of all, forgiving. Eighty-three gorilla treks later and the rush of emotions and excitement within is still as strong for me as it was with my very first trek.’
The Tiger, by Marsel van Oosten
image: Marsel van Oosten
‘We are 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 are a stark reminder of what’s at stake if we don’t change our ways. That is 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.
Tigers are among the most iconic, charismatic animals on our planet. Ask any kid to name 5 animals, chances are that the tiger is going to be one of them. Few people are fortunate to ever see them in the wild, especially because they are under threat. When you are lucky to see one in real life, it is hard to describe how that feels but it’s mostly a sense of awe. They radiate power and magnificence, yet they are so vulnerable at the same time. I hate to think about a world without them.’