Photo gallery: 10 striking images of the world's most endangered wildlife

We take a sneak peek inside photographer and journalist Graeme Green's new book, The New Big 5, to not only admire some of the world's most beautiful animals, but understand the challenges they face...

3 mins

When joining an African safari, most people hope to catch a glimpse of the Big Five. But have you ever wondered why these animals were picked to be part of it? It isn't because of their size, their beauty, or their popularity. Instead, the term was coined by colonial hunters who found these animals the most difficult to kill. They were trophies.

But not anymore. In 2021, Graeme Greene set out to reclaim this morbid term, and decided it was time to collate a new Big Five. But instead of animals to barbarically shoot at, he wanted to know people's favourite animals to capture on camera. After more than 50,000 votes it was decided. The New Big 5 of Wildlife Photography are: Elephants, polar bears, lions, gorillas, and tigers.

Now, Graeme has released a book to raise awareness of the New Big 5 and other endangered wildlife. Featuring more than 200 striking photographs, and compelling essays by leading conservationists including Dr Jane Goodall, the book is a call to action to help save our delicate natural world. 

“The New Big 5 project did a great job at highlighting endangered species and threats facing animals around the world," said Graeme. "It was always my hope to produce a book - the next step in that mission.

"Looking at the photos in this book is a powerful reminder of the incredible beauty and diversity of the natural world, and what we stand to lose if we don't take urgent action to protect wildlife and the planet."

He continued: "From termites to tigers, all creatures are essential to the balance of nature, healthy ecosystems, and the future of life on Earth. The essays, interviews and ideas for solutions included in the book point the way to a wilder, fairer world, a path available to us if we choose to take it.”  

Below, we take a sneak peek inside the book to see some of the remarkable photography included, captured by the world's most talented wildlife photographers.

Polar bear (Hao Jian/New Big 5)

Polar bear (Hao Jian/New Big 5)

Polar bear, Wapusk National Park, Manitoba, Canada

Hao Jiang

IUCN status: Vulnerable

“I saw this polar bear family pause on its trek to the sea ice to hunt seals on a frozen day in the Arctic. At this moment, these adorable twin cubs turned their first adventure into playtime by using their patient mum as a playground. They were only around three months old and had just emerged from their maternity den several days earlier. Since the polar bear cubs are young and helpless in the harsh Arctic, they rely on their mother for everything they need to survive. They are inseparable all the time until the cubs are about two and a half years old. The weather was – 40 degrees C, accompanied by intense Arctic wind. But it was a privilege to get this image in a restricted Arctic denning area at Wapusk National Park, Canada, which I’d gained permission to enter.”

Green Sea Turtle (Aimee Jan/New Big 5)

Green Sea Turtle (Aimee Jan/New Big 5)

Green Sea Turtle, Ningaloo Marine Park, Australia

Aimee Jan

IUCN status: Endangered

“This is a solo green sea turtle on the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. While out snorkelling on the back of the reef, my friend called out that she had found a large school of glass fish under a ledge at about ten metres down. When I dived down, the wall of glass fish opened up to reveal a perfectly framed turtle, which seemed to be having a rest before turning and looking directly at me. I had time to take four photos before I needed to come up for air. When looking back at them, I knew it was one of the best moments I had ever captured. 

"From hatching, this turtle faced less than a 0.001% chance of surviving to adulthood. Sadly, sea turtles face significant threats from climate change, habitat loss, coastal development, pollution, feral animal predation, vessel strikes, commercial and recreational fishing by-catch and marine debris entanglement and digestion. With increasing challenges to their survival, I hope that we can work together to protect such a magnificent creature for future generations to admire.”

African lions (Graeme Green/New Big 5)

African lions (Graeme Green/New Big 5)

African lions, Naboisho Conservancy, Kenya

Graeme Green

IUCN status: Vulnerable

“Lions are one of my favourite animals to spend time with. Hearing them roar their territorial warnings across the grasslands of Kenya is unforgettable. Lions are powerful animals, global symbols for strength, courage, and nobility,  With this photo, I wanted to show  their gentle, affectionate side and capture the behaviour between these two brothers who roam Naboisho Conservancy together. Perhaps because lions are such powerful, fearsome animals, many people think they’re doing fine. But like many other species currently, their numbers are declining rapidly. African lion numbers have declined by around 50 per cent in the last 25 years. They currently occupy just eight per cent of their historic range. Bushmeat hunting (which reduces lions’ prey), habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict are all major factors. Lions are an apex predator. Remove them and the balance between predator and prey is lost, which can have an impact on an entire ecosystem. The idea behind the New Big 5 project and book is to highlight the importance of all species, from bees to blue whales, to the balance of nature, healthy ecosystems, and the future of life on Earth.” 

Iberian Lynx (Antonio Liebana/New Big 5)

Iberian Lynx (Antonio Liebana/New Big 5)

Iberian Lynx, Peñalajo, Ciudad Real, Spain

Antonio Liebana

IUCN status: Endangered

“Iberian lynx are one of the world’s most endangered cats, due to habitat loss, decreasing food sources, car accidents, and illegal hunting. But thanks to conservation efforts, the species is recovering and can be found in small areas of Portugal and Spain. I captured this image while leading a conservation project based around photography in Peñalajo, Castilla La Mancha, Spain. I’m currently the technical director of the project where I prepare the hides and design all so that through the benefits of the photographers they are destined to take care of the habitat of the lynx. I knew a family of lynx used this waterhole to drink, so I rigged up a hide close by. Focusing on this cub, I was lucky enough to capture the moment it lifted its head from the water, licked its lips and gazed straight into the camera.”

Mountain Gorilla (Mark Edward Harris/New Big 5)

Mountain Gorilla (Mark Edward Harris/New Big 5)

Mountain Gorilla, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Mark Edward Harris

IUCN status: Endangered

“I have a special interest in great apes. Many people don’t realize that we, humans, are among the five in this ‘great apes’ category. When I ask an audience at one of my talks or a photo workshop to name all five great apes, the other one that people often forget are bonobos – everyone gets orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees.

"For photographing gorillas in the wild, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda has no equal. It was in this area that Dian Fossey worked to help save the gorillas from extinction. Today, their numbers are steadily increasing. The proximity I could get to the gorillas came as a surprise. This up-close and personal experience is truly one of the greatest moments one can experience in the wild.”

Ruppell's vulture (Marco Gaiotti/New Big 5)

Ruppell's vulture (Marco Gaiotti/New Big 5)

Rüppell’s Vulture, Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

Marco Gaiotti

IUCN status: Critically Endangered.

“This image is of a Rüppell’s vulture in flight in front of the Jinbar Waterfall in the Simien Mountains, Ethiopia. The Rüppell's vulture is a large bird of prey, listed as Critically Endangered according to IUCN. The current population of 22,000 is decreasing mainly due to loss of habitat. Rüppell's vultures are also considered to be the highest-flying bird, with confirmed evidence of a flight at an altitude of 11,300 m (37,000 ft) above sea level.

"Vultures usually climb the steep walls of the gorge into which the waterfall flows to take advantage of the updrafts that form during the day. In this image, the light that filters from above into the gorge illuminates the birds in flight, leaving the background in darkness, creating a strong sense of contrast between light and shadow.

"Vultures are essential to the health of an ecosystem. As scavengers, they serve a clean-up role. But their numbers have decreased dramatically across Asia and many parts of Africa.”

Bengal tiger (Thomas Vijayan/New Big 5)

Bengal tiger (Thomas Vijayan/New Big 5)

Bengal tiger, Bandhavgarh National Park, India

Thomas Vijayan (Canada)

IUCN status: Endangered.

“The tiger is one of my most favourite animals to photograph. I travel all the way from Canada to Indian forests to capture their majestic beauty. Ranthambhore is another national park in India which I often visit, which is filled with majestic tigers. But this picture was taken in Bandhavgarh. Local people and officials in India are trying to protect the tigers in whatever way they can and the tiger population is now increasing in a large scale. This picture was taken on a rainy day. In Indian forests, it’s very difficult to get a proper picture of a running tiger, as they all are thick forests. I kept the camera settings fast enough to freeze the running tiger.”

Cape pangolin (Jen Guyton/New Big 5)

Cape pangolin (Jen Guyton/New Big 5)

Cape Pangolin, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique

Jen Guyton

IUCN status: Vulnerable

“We found this wild ground pangolin, also known as the Cape pangolin, during a biodiversity survey in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. She was out foraging for termites and I took a series of photos of her. Pangolins are the only mammals that have large scales made of keratin, which are actually just modified hairs. These animals are coveted in Asia for their meat and scales, which are wrongly thought to have medicinal properties. As a result, they are one of the most trafficked animals in the world. In recent years, all eight pangolin species were protected under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).”

African elephant (Marsel van Oosten/New Big 5)

African elephant (Marsel van Oosten/New Big 5)

African elephant, Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia

Marsel van Oosten

IUCN status, Endangered.

“I shot this image in Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia. It’s the direct result of my favourite creative tool: previsualization. My approach is often the opposite of what most wildlife photographers do - instead of going where the animals are, I go to where I want the animals to be. The landscape and the setting is more important to me than the species. In this case, I spotted this beautiful constellation of tree trunks and immediately saw the potential for a great animalscape. I decided to get into the perfect position and simply wait for an animal to walk into the natural frame. Luckily, the area has plenty of elephants, so eventually an elephant walked into my frame and I couldn’t have been happier. The elephants in this area have relatively small tusks, and many of them have no tusks at all. This is the result of what is called ‘reverse evolution’ - the survival of the weakest. Poachers are always targeting the biggest bulls with the largest tusks, so their genes are eliminated from the gene pool. The weakest bulls - the smaller ones with small tusks or even no tusks at all - survive and get to procreate. I have been going to this area for over 15 years now, and every year I see more tuskless elephants. I was lucky that this particular bull had sizeable tusks.”

Atlantic puffin (Kevin Morgans/New Big 5)

Atlantic puffin (Kevin Morgans/New Big 5)

Atlantic Puffin, Hermaness National Nature Reserve, Unst, Shetland.

Kevin Morgans

IUCN status: Vulnerable

“The Atlantic Puffin's global population is on a downward trend. Several factors contribute, including unsustainable fishing, marine pollution, and invasive ground predators, but their main threat arises from the change in distribution and numbers of their primary food source, sandeels. This is due to rising sea temperatures reducing the numbers of plankton in our oceans, the main food source for sandeels, which are in turn the puffins' primary food. A reduction in plankton in our waters has a monumental impact on the food chain, with puffins being forced to abandon their regular feeding grounds in the North Sea and instead journey far into the Atlantic in search of sandeels. These travails leave parent birds exhausted and pufflings without food for extended periods. Sadly, leading to greatly increased mortality rates in the chicks.

"With over ten million adult puffins globally, it is not too late to reverse the downward trend. There is still hope, but salvation can only come from changes in human attitudes and better stewardship of our oceans and coastal environments.”

The New Big 5: A Global Photography Project For Endangered Wildlife

The New Big 5: A Global Photography Project For Endangered Wildlife by Graeme Green is out now (Earth Aware Editions; $75.00; £62), available at Insight Editions.com, Amazon, and Bookshop, with a foreword by Paula Kahumbu and an afterword by Jane Goodall.

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