The New Big 5

Raising awareness for wildlife conservation through photography

Story update: The results of the year-long global vote for the five animals in the New Big 5 of Wildlife Photography are: Elephant, polar bear, gorilla, tiger and lion. Each of the five species in the New Big 5 face severe threats to their existence and are listed by the IUCN either as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable. For more information on the project, visit newbig5.com.

When I was a child, I wanted to be Jane Goodall. My bedroom was overflowing with cuddly stuffed animals, most of them primates, including a life-size purple chimpanzee holding a banana. Living like Goodall in Africa surrounded by chimps was the best life my young mind could possibly imagine. Fast forward to today. Thanks, in part, to Dr. Goodall showing my generation that girls could grow up to be whatever we wanted, I have made a life photographing and writing about wildlife and wild lands.

Image of a chimpanzee, one of the animals in the running for the New Big 5.

Chimpanzee, Gombe National Park, Tanzania.

Early in my career, when deciding which stories to pursue, I asked myself, “What do I want to see?” The more time I spent in wild lands viewing wildlife, the more I became aware of the threats to species and their habitats. It didn’t take long for me to amend my original question to, “What do I want to see before it’s gone?” But the second question seems almost defeatist, and both are a bit selfish. So I try to focus my work around another inquiry: “What can I do to call attention to threatened wildlife and shrinking habitats?”

With this mission in mind, I’m always on the lookout to highlight photographers and storytellers who are using their work to conserve nature. One such person is Graeme Green, a British wildlife photographer and journalist who has launched an international initiative called the New Big 5. He’s asking people to vote for their top five favorite land animals they like to photograph or see in wildlife photographs. Voting is done through the project’s website, newbig5.com, and the results will be announced by the end of 2020. The New Big 5 celebrates wildlife and wildlife photography—the original “Big 5” term was coined by trophy hunters to list the five African mammal species deemed the most difficult and dangerous to kill: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo. Green says that the New Big 5 is a positive way to engage people, and it’s also a way to shine a light on conservation issues.

“A lot of people who care about wildlife may not be aware of just how serious the threats are,” says Green. “We’re at a crisis point, and the New Big 5 is a fun and lively way to get people talking and thinking about wildlife.”

According to a comprehensive 2019 report published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 1 million species may be pushed to extinction in the next few years. It’s hard to imagine our world without elephants, polar bears or lions, but it’s a distinct possibility in our lifetime.

“The world is a far better place with these animals than without,” says Green. “I hope the New Big 5 can bring attention and action for all the world’s wildlife, large and small.”

In addition to providing a forum for people to vote for their favorite animals, the New Big 5 website offers a platform of ideas, strategies, actions to take and conservation organizations to support. There are also interviews with some of the top names in wildlife photography and conservation, including Dr. Goodall, Ami Vitale, Brent Stirton, Art Wolfe and many others who support the project.

Perusing the list of candidates on the website, I was immediately struck by the difficulty of choosing just five. Many of these species I have photographed. Those that I haven’t, I would like to someday. But more importantly, I can’t imagine the world without a single one of them. How to choose? After much deliberation, I’m endorsing the following species: 1) Chimpanzee—the animal that ignited my passion for wildlife as a child, and the species that we are most closely related to. 2) Polar bear—the Arctic’s top predator that has become a symbol for habitat and species loss due to climate change. 3) Pangolin—one of the world’s most heavily trafficked species. 4) Grizzly bear—the symbol of wilderness in North America. 5) Elephant—one of the most endearing and social animals with the females living in matriarchal societies. And there’s just something weird and wonderful about a trunk.

Who will you vote for?

Inspired by wild lands and their significance to both wildlife and people, Amy Gulick is a firm believer in the power of visual stories to engage, inform and move viewers. Celebrating the wild and the photographers who use their images to raise awareness is at the core of Gulick’s work featured in Outdoor Photographer.