Snapshot: Stunning images of the animals we risk sending to extinction

Earlier this week, Sir David Attenborough sounded a warning.

‘We now have a few short years during which we can still make a choice, where just enough remains of the natural world for it to recover,’ said the beloved broadcaster and naturalist. ‘Never has it been more important to do this for ourselves and for our wildlife.’

It is far from the first time Sir David has spoken out, and in recent years numerous reports have highlighted the precipitous decline in population suffered by countless species – largely as a result of human activity.

Last year, the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report revealed an average 69% drop in the populations of monitored vertebrates – mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish – since 1970.

Raising awareness of both the majesty and plight of our non-human neighbours is seen as key to helping reverse these trends, something wildlife photographer Graeme Green is attempting to do with an inventive project.

Green set out to reclaim the Big Five name, a traditional term for the five big-game animals most difficult for colonial hunters to kill for trophies, and asked people around the world to ‘vote on the five animals they most like to see in photos – shooting with a camera, not a gun’.

Joining forces with wildlife photographers from around the globe, Green and the team captured not only the new Big Five – elephants, polar bears, lions, gorillas and tigers – but endangered species from across the land, sea and sky, including pangolins, lemurs, turtles, sharks, monkeys and leopards, for his book The New Big 5: A Global Photography Project For Endangered Wildlife.

Alongside dozens of stunning images, the book also features essays from leading conservationists including Jane Goodall, Wildlife Conservation Trust president Anish Andheria and Graeme himself.

Greene says: ‘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.’

Photographer Thomas Vijayan says: ‘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, 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.’ (Picture: Thomas Vijayan)
Photographer Shane Gross says: ‘It is estimated there are only 2,400 mature individual Cuban crocodiles (Crocodylus rhombifer) left on Earth. This tiny population found only in Cuba faces many threats, but the largest one stems from interbreeding with American crocodiles, whose numbers and range is far larger than that of the Cuban croc. As the sea rises due to climate change the range of American crocs (who prefer sea water) expands, and overlaps with the shrinking Cuban croc’s territory (which is typically more brackish, swampy water). I had already photographed the American crocodile in Cuban waters and that’s how I first heard about the plight of the Cuban croc. I went back the next year specifically to photograph an individual Cuban crocodile who was hanging out in a cenote in Zapata National Park. This male was still relatively small and had seen a lot of people in his life because a popular walking trail ran next to the cenote. Had the croc been larger, or if he had had other croc friends nearby, it would not have been safe to get in the water. While Cuban crocodiles are considered to be one of the most aggressive crocs, I found this one to be very polite.’ (Picture: Shane Gross)
Photographer Marsel van Oosten says: ‘I shot this image in Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia. 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.’ (Picture: Marsel van Oosten)
Photographer Graeme Green says: ‘This is Marambo, one of the largest silverbacks in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, taken on the forested slopes of Sabyinyo volcano. The head of the Mahoza family, he’s a gentle giant, weighing around 200 kilograms. He spends most of his time as a quiet, powerful presence watching over adult females, juveniles and babies in his group. Mountain gorillas are found in just three countries: Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Their two ranges total less than 300 square miles. Mountain gorilla populations are slowly recovering. They’ve been moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered by the IUCN. It’s a sign that global attention and conservation efforts from wildlife organisations, governments and local people does work. We just need to make sure there’s more of it.’ (Picture: Graeme Green)
Photographer Jenny Wong says: ‘I photographed this polar bear wandering along the floe edge where sea ice meets open water in the high Canadian Arctic. We had tracked this bear for several days, and after two weeks it was my last day. Bears are living their best life here on the sea ice. The number one threat for polar bears is the deteriorating sea ice condition year after year due to climate warming in the Arctic. It is not just a platform to hunt and commute, but it’s also vital for their main prey seals to den and nurse their pups. It is also the substrate that sea ice algae grow on, which is very much at the base of the Arctic food chain. A bear walking away seems to imply the state of a runaway climate crisis if we do nothing to turn things around.’ (Picture: Jenny Wong)
Photographer Marcus Westberg says: ‘At over 120,000 hectares, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve is South Africa’s largest private protected area. This rough-and-tumble image captured one moment in a wonderful fifteen minute session of sneak attacks, tugs-of-war and wrestling at a waterhole, while the youngsters’ mother rested with the other adults in the shade of a nearby tree. Though it is easy to take the presence of lions for granted, as they are certainly abundant in online safari posts, it is easy to forget that the population size of Africa’s largest predator has shrunk to a fraction of what it was a few decades ago. This is largely the result of their habitat having been destroyed, which increases conflict with an ever-growing human population, usually to the lions’ detriment. Though the threats to their future have by no means disappeared, lions have been successfully re-introduced to parts of Africa where they had previously been driven extinct.’ (Picture: Marcus Westberg)
Photographer Magnus Lundgren says: ‘A large group of Chilean devil rays, all with a wingspan of three to four metres, socialise over the Azore’s Princess Alice seamount in the late summer. Here they pass the photographer hanging on-line in the blue over the underwater mountain. Chilean devil rays are considered one of the deepest divers in the ocean – a recent study in the Azores found that they dive to extreme depths, reaching at least 1,800 metres. More or less, all mobula rays are under serious threat and declining every year, turning up on the IUCN Red List one by one. As if climate change and the fishing industry were not enough, the mobula’s gill rakers are sold and marketed for a variety of false ‘healing’ reasons, putting them into an even greater danger of disappearing.’ (Picture: Magnus Lundgren)
Photographer Antonio Liebana says: ‘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 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.’ (Picture: Antonio Liebana)
Photographer Jen Guyton says: ‘We found this wild ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) during a biodiversity survey in Gorongosa National Park, 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, and in recent years all eight pangolin species were protected under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).’ (Picture: Jennifer Guyton)
Photographer Qiang Zhang says: ‘The golden snub-nosed monkey is not only a unique and rare animal, but also a national first-class protected animal in China. In the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi province, golden monkeys live in low altitude areas, around 2,000 metres in winter and early spring. Their living environment is away from people, so it is difficult to photograph them. It was the coldest day in January when I took this photo. Some of them were resting and some were playing back and forth among the branches, not affected by the weather at all. Their golden hair stands out against the snow. They have prominent mouths and nostrils facing the sky, and their whole body is covered with fine and soft golden hair. This golden monkey is taking her baby to walk and jump on the tree flexibly and freely. There’s no need to worry about the little golden monkey falling down – his arms and legs tightly embrace his mother. I saw this and quickly recorded this wonderful moment with my camera.’ (Picture: Qiang Zhang)
Photographer Chris Fallows says: ‘While exploring the seabed in a one-man mobile cage off the coast of Stewart Island, New Zealand, this magnificent 11-foot great white investigated me for over 20 minutes, giving me the incredible privilege to photograph it as it swam across the golden sea floor. In other locations, most notably South Africa, previously robust great white shark populations have been decimated due to gross mismanagement of the marine ecosystem and other anthropomorphic pressures such as antiquated bather protection shark nets, bycatch, overfishing of prey, and poaching. Predation by orcas, albeit natural, has also in recent times added to the pressure. New Zealand, Australia and the North American coastlines are the few remaining strongholds of this keystone species, which is so vital to the balance and wellbeing of marine ecosystems.’ (Picture: Chris Fallows)
Photographer Aimee Jan says: ‘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 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.’ (Picture: Aimee Jan)
Photographer David Lloyd says: ‘Karanja is the name of this iconic black rhinoceros who lived out his years in Kenya’s Maasai Mara until his death of natural causes in December 2014. He boasted what some people believe to be the longest horn in Africa, which measured 34 inches. His second horn is longer than most rhino’s first horn. Karanja even boasted a third, just behind the second. He was the oldest rhino in the reserve, and a rare living link to an era when rhinos were still common. This photo was taken in 2014. It was always a pleasure to spend time with him in his natural environment. Unrealised by modem generations is the fact that one hundred years ago, all rhinos had this kind of appearance. But sadly decimation by hunters and the desire for keratin by other cultures have rendered a new normal in terms of the appearance for rhinos.’ (Picture: David Lloyd)
Photographer Hao Jiang: ‘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 minus 40 degrees celsius, 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.’ (Picture: Hao Jiang)
Photographer Berndt Weissenbacher: ‘I call this photo The Kiss. It’s a baby African elephant greeting her older sister in Kruger National Park, South Africa. It’s always a privilege to photograph African elephants. Although their shape and rather monotone grey colour might not seem photogenic, the great intelligence and exceptional social organisation and communal interactions witnessed in an elephant herd make for inspiring images, if they are treated with consideration and respect. Elephants are the largest living land mammal on the planet. However, they face threats to their existence from issues such as habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict in many parts of Africa, and the continued killing of the animals for their tusks for the ivory trade. The African forest elephant was recently listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered and the African savannah elephant as Endangered. Like all species, African elephants must be granted the right to continue being, autonomously of human economic exploitation.’ (Picture: Berndt Weissenbacher)
Photographer Kevin Morgans, who captured this shot on Shetland, says: ‘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, this leads 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.’ (Picture: Kevin Morgans)
Photographer Nili Gudhka says: ‘On a cold winter morning in Kenya’s famous Maasai Mara National Reserve, we came across a cheetah mother with two tiny cubs. They were just waking up from a good night’s sleep and eagerly waiting for some warm sunshine. As the sun came up, the cubs became very playful. One of them decided to climb onto a dead tree log. Cheetahs are considered Vulnerable by the IUCN, and the survival rate of cubs is just about five per cent. Sadly, just two days later, one of the cheetah cubs was killed by hyenas in the night, and a few weeks after, the second cub was killed by a male lion. Cheetahs are racing toward extinction because of habitat loss and illegal wildlife trafficking, as they are used as pets in many countries.’ (Picture: Nili Gudhka)
Photographer Lucas Bustamante says: “This is the spotted torrent frog, one of the most beautiful frogs on Earth. These Andean frogs live on very restricted waterfalls around the Andean foothills [this photo was taken at Santa Barbara Park, Ecuador]. They measure around ten centimetres, and are characterised by their striking colours and patterns, including the tips of their fingers, where each species has its own colour of “nail polish”. Because of their very specific distribution, they are vulnerable to changes in their habitats, so it is essential to preserve their ecosystems.’ (Picture: Lucas Bustamante)
Photographer Marco Gaiotti says: ‘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 37,000 feet 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.’ (Picture: Marco Gaiotti)
Photographer Gabby Salazar says: ‘This is a photo of two Florida manatees hanging out near a freshwater spring in Florida, US. The average water temperature in the springs is around 72 degrees Fahrenheit all year round, which makes the springs a warm refuge for manatees during the cold winter months. Manatees face many challenges in Florida, including collisions with boats and a lack of food. Recently, many manatees have starved to death in Florida because pollutants have increased algae blooms, which have led to a reduction in seagrass – their primary food source. Floridians love manatees and they are energised to help mitigate this latest threat. Seagrass restoration projects are helping manatee habitats recover and supplemental feeding programs have been initiated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.’ (Picture: Gabby Salazar)
Photographer Graeme Green says: ‘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. (Picture: Graeme Green)
Photographer Thomas D Mangelsen says: ‘In 2018, I was fortunate to make my first visit with my dear friend Dr Jane Goodall to Gombe Stream National Park, the nature reserve in Tanzania where her monumental chimpanzee research began in the late 1960s. On the last day, as if on cue, magic happened when a family group of a dozen chimps came down from the trees into a clearing. This photograph is of a ten-month-old chimp named Gombe, grandson of Gremlin – a chimp that Jane studied and knew well. Gombe was leaning against his mother, Glitter. This image speaks to the similar behaviours between our closest relatives in the animal world. In many ways, we are mirror reflections of each other. Millions of chimps used to live throughout equatorial Africa. However, the bush meat trade, destruction of habitat, and the black market for live chimps and animal parts has had devastating effects. Currently, chimps are classified as Endangered, with between 170,000 and 300,000 thought to still exist in the wild.’ (Picture: Thomas D Mangelsen)
Photographer Graeme Green, who captured this shot in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania, says: ‘Leopards are incredibly elegant animals, with one of the most beautiful coats in the natural world. They’re also powerful and agile, which makes them excellent hunters. But it’s extremely unusual to see leopards hunting from trees, which is what’s happening in this image. The leopard is eyeing an unfortunate impala grazing obliviously on the grass below the baobab tree. The leopard had been resting in the branches, but seized the opportunity when it presented itself, eyeing the impala, then bounding down the trunk and pouncing. As a wildlife photographer, I’m not very interested in ‘kills’ but did want to capture this remarkable and rare behaviour of hunting from a tree – or death from above. As with so many species, the leopard’s beauty is part of the reason why they’re being lost – their skins are in high demand, alongside teeth and other body parts. Habitat loss and fragmentation, and human-wildlife conflict are also driving numbers down. It would be a terrible loss to the natural world if they were allowed to vanish altogether.’ (Picture: Graeme Green)
Photographer Tom Shlesinger says: ‘Atlantic goliath groupers are massive fish that can live for dozens of years, growing up to two and a half metres long and weighing up to 360 kilograms. This image was taken near Palm Beach, Florida. The groupers aggregate in large numbers along the Atlantic coast of Florida every year at the same locations to reproduce. Decades ago, following a severe decline in the population of the goliath grouper, Florida banned their fishing, leading to an increase in the population. Now, there are new plans to reopen fishing, which may put their future in danger once again. Trying to find an interesting composition for this large, easy-going fish, I got lucky on one dive – vast schools of bigeye scads had surrounded the groupers, which ignored the silvery school in favour of larger prey. I observed, captivated, as the groupers swam calmly through the swirling school of small fish, and immediately knew this was the perfect moment to capture a unique perspective.’ (Picture: Tom Shlesinger)
Photographer Vladimir Cech Jr says: ‘Ranthambhore National Park in central India is my ‘second home’. I’ve been lucky to see tigers there many times. They’re such magnificent and powerful animals. The Royal Bengal tiger is the most numerous subspecies of tiger on Earth. That might sound like there are many of them, but unfortunately, there aren’t. Once, tigers ruled over a significant area of our planet, but right now they occupy only seven per cent of their historic range – they live in small islands of forests surrounded by a sea of human beings. The main factors contributing to the decline of tiger populations is habitat loss and fragmentation, lack of corridors, territorial fighting, inbreeding and poaching. The illegal hunting of their natural prey, like deer and wild boar, significantly reduces the availability of food for big cats. Humans are the direct or indirect cause of around 80 per cent of the mortalities of tigers. Tigers are usually poached for their fur and body parts, which are widely used as traditional medicine – despite the fact that no part of the tiger’s body has any medicinal value at all.’ (Picture: Vladimir Cech Jr)
Photographer Mark Edward Harris: ‘I have a special interest in great apes. Many people don’t realise 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.’ (Picture: Mark Edward Harris)

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, Amazon, and Bookshop, with a foreword by Paula Kahumbu and an afterword by Jane Goodall


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