A new project has turned a traditional trophy hunter’s hit list into a conservation tool. Its organisers hope it will raise global awareness about the hundreds of species facing extinction.
What is the Big Five?
Traditionally, the Big Five is a term used to describe five African animals that early big game hunters considered the most difficult and dangerous to hunt: the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and buffalo.
The New Big Five is a conservation project set up to change the traditional understanding of the phrase. It was organised by photographers to celebrate five animals most popular to shoot, not with guns – but with cameras.
The project was launched earlier this week, with the animals announced as the elephant, lion, polar bear, gorilla and tiger.
What is the point of it all?
The year-long project aims to use photography to raise awareness about the threats to wildlife from habitat loss, poaching, the illegal wildlife trade and the climate crisis.
It is also an opportunity to celebrate the lives of wildlife – and the human connection with the natural world. Organisers hope to encourage photographic tourism as an alternative to game hunting, which still takes place around the world. This could in turn bring money that would pay for important conservation work in tourist spots.
How were these five chosen?
More than 50,000 people from around the world voted for animals they most liked seeing in pictures. The New Big Five were the winners. The founders describe them as ambassadors for all wildlife and the difficulties it faces.
All five of the species chosen are listed as either critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable.
Marsel van Oosten, one of the photographers involved in the project, says he looks at each of them “as beautiful representatives of the many thousands of other… lesser-known species who desperately need our help.”
How do we define “endangered”?
Endangered species can be listed as one of three things: vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. A vulnerable species is one that faces a high risk of extinction, an endangered one faces a very high risk. A critically endangered species faces an extremely high risk.
Several factors are important in deciding where to place these species, from habitat to reproductive cycle. According to the WWF, 96,500 species have been assessed for this list. More than 26,00 of those are under threat.
Are the Big Five the only ones?
No. There are currently 6,811 species considered critically endangered. This means they face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
Some species are down to just a few thousand individuals: there are no more than 6,000 snow leopards left in the wild. Others are dropping fast: bluefin tuna numbers have decreased up to 82% in 40 years. Leatherback sea turtles are down to 43,000 from 115,000 in 1980. And in 2015, the last male white rhino on the planet died, leaving two females behind and making the species functionally extinct.
Does it REALLY matter?
Yes. Critics would say that conservation efforts like the New Big Five are sentimental. But animals and plants depend on each other. The loss of one affects others within the web of relationships that make up an ecosystem.
In turn, this means it matters to us, too. Humans depend on plants and animals for food, medicine, clothing and shelter. Intact ecosystems purify the air we breathe, filter our water and protect the land from erosion. It is unclear how many species can be eliminated before whole systems break down. So, while the endangered African elephants seem a world away from the streets of our cities, their death could affect us in unknown ways.
- Is photography a good way to raise awareness about such a large problem?
- Create an advert asking for help to save an endangered animal. Explain how and why it should be saved.
- Big game hunters
- Big game is the name given to large animals hunted for sport. The phrase, Big Five, was originally coined in colonial times when hunters would track down game on foot.
- The practice of protecting plant and animal species and their habitats.
- Illegal hunting and killing. Elephants and rhinos are poached for their tusks and horns.
- The group of photographers were supported by several charities as well as celebrities including Ben Fogle, Moby and Joanna Lumley.
- Critically endangered
- Mountain gorillas, Asian elephants and tigers are all at extremely high risk of extinction.
- Polar bears and lions are both listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.
- If all individuals are living in one single area, they are more likely to be wiped out by one single cause than if they were spread out geographically.
- Reproductive cycle
- The length of the reproductive cycle affects how quickly a population could recover if there were enough breeding pairs.
- Functionally extinct
- A few individuals survive, but the species has passed the point where it can be saved naturally.
- Emotional and unscientific.