Wildlife lovers around the world have chosen a New Big 5

Posted on 17 May 2021

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.

Wildlife lovers around the world have chosen a New Big 5


Elephants are the largest living land mammal on Earth. 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) said ‘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 life unless humanity cares enough to prevent it from happening.’

Dr Paula Kahumbu (CEO / Founder of Wildlife Direct) said ‘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) said ‘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.’


Polar bears are the world’s largest carnivores. Scientists estimate the global polar bear population is around 23,315. The IUCN lists them as a Vulnerable species, with an estimated decline of 40 percent in some populations, such as the Southern Beaufort Sea.

Sea ice loss from climate change is the biggest threat to their survival. Polar bears 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 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) said ‘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 of 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’s better for all of us.’

Jennifer Morgan (Executive Director, Greenpeace International) said ‘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) said ‘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.’


Gorillas are the world’s largest primates. They share more than 98 percent of their DNA with humans and are vital to healthy forests.

Mountain gorillas are found in Rwanda, Uganda, and DRC. Their two ranges total less than 300 square miles, around one-tenth of Yellowstone NP in the United States. Mountain gorillas are slowly recovering. They’ve been moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered due to conservation efforts. The last census put their number at 1,063.

Grauer’s gorillas are only found in DRC. Critically Endangered, there are around 3,800 remainings, an 80 percent drop in two decades.

Gorillas are losing their habitat, due to human encroachment, mining, and climate change, and sometimes suffer injury and death from snares left by bushmeat poachers.

Dr Tara Stoinski (President / CEO, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund) said ‘I’m absolutely delighted gorillas are part of the New Big 5. Gorillas are incredible, intelligent, caring animals. They share more than 98 percent 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 percent, 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.’

Marcus Westberg (photographer) said ‘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 can’t feel a strong connection to them, what hope do we have?’

Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka (Founder / CEO, Conservation Through Public Health) said ‘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.’

Brent Stirton (photographer) said ‘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 know they deserve every bit of consideration that we would have for humans.’

Usha Harish (photographer) said ‘There seems to spring bond gorillas and people, peeling back the aeons of human evolution, gazing at our very roots as a species. Spending time with gorillas is an experience that’s spiritual in its intensity.’


Lions are apex predators, maintaining a stable balance of predator and prey, stopping herbivores from degrading vegetation.

African lion numbers have declined by around 50 percent in the last 25 years. Lions occupy just eight percent of their historic range. Recent estimates suggest 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 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.

Beyond Africa, lions are only found in Gir National Park in India, where there are around 670 lions.

Dr Shivani Bhalla (Founder / Executive Director of Ewaso Lions) said ‘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 pride I used to see as a child is 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) said ‘There is no creature more powerful, sexier, and more iconic than the African lion. Lions are magnificent animals and we’re privileged to share this Earth with them.’

Peter Lindsey (Director, Lion Recovery Fund)said ‘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.’


Tigers are listed globally as Endangered by the IUCN. They’re the closest of the big cats to extinction. There are only around 3,900 tigers left in the wild globally but an estimated 20,000 in captivity, many 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 ornaments in China, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia continues to drive the rapid decline. Habitat destruction, fragmentation, and human-wildlife conflict add to the crisis. Only seven percent of tigers’ historical range is intact today.

In India, tiger numbers are stable. Tigers have been largely wiped out in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and China. The Malayan (150-200 left) and Sumatran (300-370 left) sub-species are listed as Critically Endangered.

Simon Clinton (Founder, Save Wild Tigers) said ‘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 of 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) said ‘I’m so happy tigers been given the importance they deserve. 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, by the fall in its prey numbers due to hunting, and from human-animal conflict. In India, they’re threatened by habitat loss and poaching. Sumatran tigers are even more critically endangered.’

Farwiza Farhan (Founder, Forest, Nature, and Environment of Aceh (HAkA) said ‘Tigers are the big predator at the top of the food chain and play an important role keeping the ecosystem in balance. The Sumatran tiger is one of four key endangered species in Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem, 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.’

Valmik Thapar (conservationist/author) said ‘I’m delighted tigers have been chosen as one of the New Big 5. There are only 3900 tigers left in the wild around the world today. Tigers are a photographers’ dream. The beauty of a tiger in every photo promotes conservation, so if you want to save the world’s most charismatic species, get your camera and go find the tiger.’

Shibu Preman (photographer) said ‘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.’

PICTURE: Supplied

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