In the 1800s, when blood sports were more socially acceptable, the term “Big Five” was coined to refer to the lion, rhino, buffalo, elephant and leopard – the animals that trophy hunters in Africa considered the most dangerous to hunt on foot.
But British photographer Graeme Green wants to give the phrase a new meaning – one that celebrates the animals’ life rather than their death. He has set up the “New Big 5” project, which aims to use photography to raise awareness of threats to wildlife and inspire conservation.
Green says he wants to encourage people to shoot with a camera, not a gun. “Photography’s a much better way to celebrate animals,” he tells CNN.
When the project began in April 2020, it launched a year-long vote to determine the public’s five favorite animals to photograph, or see photographed. The results of the 50,000 online votes are now in.
There is some overlap between the “New Big 5” and the old – with the elephant and the lion still included. But the gorilla, tiger and polar bear are new entries, unseating the leopard, rhino and African buffalo.
“I hope the five animals people have chosen for the New Big 5 can focus people’s minds on what’s happening to the world’s wildlife,” says Green. “They are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the crisis facing the world’s wildlife … but these five iconic animals can be global ambassadors and stand for all the other species facing the threat of extinction.”
Protection through pictures
One million of the planet’s eight million species are threatened with extinction by humans, according to the UN. Shrinking habitat, exploitation of natural resources, climate change and pollution are some of the main drivers.
Each of the species in the New Big 5 face severe threats to their existence, and are classified as either critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable.
Photography can help to educate people of these threats, says Green. It can introduce people to animals they haven’t seen before, or expose animal cruelty and the damage to their habitats. This can inspire people to support conservation projects or apply pressure on policymakers.
The project has the backing of more than 100 photographers, as well as prominent conservationists, and wildlife organizations such as the WWF, Greenpeace, Conservation International, and the Born Free Foundation.
Jane Goodall, a conservationist and supporter of the New Big 5, said in a press release that “any project which brings attention to animals, so many of whom are threatened or endangered, is truly important.
“These five animals … 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,” she said.
Green says he will continue to raise awareness of conservation issues, and has ambitions to produce a photography book on the New Big 5, featuring the work of the international photographers involved with the project, with the profits going to wildlife charities.