The New Big 5 of Wildlife Photography

The ‘Big 5’ originated in colonial times to identify the five African wildlife species that were the most difficult and dangerous to kill. The phrase is still used this way today—until now.

An international effort of wildlife photographers, conservationists and wildlife charities has partnered together in an effort to redefine the ‘Big 5’ through the lens of wildlife photography, and not through the barrel of a gun.

The ‘New Big 5’ celebrates wildlife and wildlife photography. Created by British photographer Graeme Green, the project is designed to bring awareness to the threats facing wildlife today. Some of our most well-known and well-loved wildlife, including lions and elephants, may face extinction in our lifetimes.

Never before has it been more vital to bring awareness to the threats of habitat loss, poaching, climate change and human-wildlife conflict. As Jane Goodall told Graeme Green:

“A million species are at risk of extinction. If we work together, we can stop this happening. There is always hope.”

But it’s never been clearer that we must act quickly.

The international vote for which animals would make the New Big 5 launched in April 2020. Some of the world’s top wildlife photographers and conservations placed their votes, along with many animal lovers around the world.

Whereas the old Big 5 focused on killing African wildlife, this New Big 5 initiative encompasses all of the world’s wildlife, from gorillas to pandas to polar bears and grizzly bears. In May of 2021, the final results of the New Big 5 came in.

These are the animals included in the New Big 5 of Wildlife Photography:

1. Elephant

What can I say about one of my favorite animals in all the world? Angela Sheldrick of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust called them “the Gardeners of Eden, with so much dependent upon their very existence.” The African savanna elephants, featured in our Sheldrick Wildlife Trust photography Series, are now listed by the IUCN as Endangered. For some subspecies of elephants, we have just ten years to make a difference and save them.

2. Polar Bear

According to the IUCN, the polar bear is a Vulnerable species. Their biggest ongoing threat is the melting of sea ice due to climate change and global warming. Displaced polar bears are more prone to encounter human-wildlife conflict, putting them at further risk. Krista Wright of Polar Bears International sums it up: “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 is better for all of us.”

3. Gorilla

While the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratci Republic of Congo are slowly recovering, Grauer’s gorillas are now listed as Critically Endangered. Gorillas also face habitat loss due to human encroachment and climate change, and these beloved animals need our continued efforts to survive. I love photographer Marcus Westburg’s question: “These are the world’s largest primates, full of curiosity and compassion, and if we cannot feel a strong connection to them, what hope do we have?”

4. Lion

Lions are one of the most iconic and majestic species on the planet, with only about 670 existing outside of Africa. Since the 1940s, the planet’s lion population has decreased from 450,000 to as few as 20,000 animals due to the territorial expansion of humans.

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is currently home to 47 lions, which are featured in our Lewa photography Series. Current threats to the species center on bushmeat hunting, habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict. But as Peter Lindsey of Lion Recovery Fund said, “They are the consummate umbrella species: if we can protect savanna ecosystems sufficiently to support lion populations, other species will also thrive.” In short—save the lions, save other wildlife.

5. Tiger

With less than 4,000 tigers left in the wild globally, the tiger is the most threatened of all the big cats and the closest to extinction. Most of the world’s tigers, an estimated 20,000, live in captivity around the world in the form of private ‘zoos.’Tigers are a vital part of maintaining the necessary predator-prey balance in our ecosystems. To preserve this balance in the food chain, and this incredible species, we must continue to fight and expose the illegal wildlife trade in China, Vietnam and other parts of Asia.

With World Elephant Day and World Lion Day approaching, there is no better time to make an impact for wildlife and bring attention to the dire state of the species who need our help most.

Explore our photographic print Series:

Featuring the elephants of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the lions who reside at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, along with Grévy’s zebra, black rhinos, cheetahs and Reticulated giraffes.

And watch the results of the New Big 5 of Wildlife Photography, produced by One Earth, New Big 5 Project and The Ellen Fund!

Browse Prints