Reimagining the Big 5

By Claudia Posada

The results are in for the New Big 5 of Wildlife Photography…  

The term ‘Big 5’ was originally coined by colonial-era hunters in Africa, to refer to the most prized and challenging animals to shoot: the elephant, rhino, leopard, cape buffalo and lion. An international initiative was launched by British photographer Graeme Green to reshape the narrative and create a ‘New Big 5’, through the lense of photography. Photography as an art form is the perfect way to celebrate and champion species so pivotal to our natural world, and in many cases, threatened by factors outside of their control.

Lion cubs and mother drink water
Photography is the perfect way to celebrate and champion species so pivotal to our natural world © Marsel van Oosten
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Wildlife lovers around the globe took part in a global vote for a chance for their favourite animals to be included in the reimagined the Big 5. The aim of the project being not only to celebrate these marvellous animals through photography, but also to raise awareness surrounding their loss in habitat, the impact of climate change and the wildlife trade. Hear from leading conservationists and wildlife photographers as they reflect upon the New Big 5 of photography and their remarkable qualities.   

1. Elephants

These socially conscious animals share more human-like qualities than many may think. They mourn their dead, even outside of family circles, and communicate with fellow elephants using their multi-purpose trunks.

Tragically, the trafficking of elephants, demand for ivory and habitat loss threaten their survival. The Big 5 initiative seeks to raise awareness surrounding their livelihoods; people can appreciate and understand these joyous creatures more deeply through photography and the stories that surround the photographs. 

Elephant Matriarch walks through Maasai Mara Reserve, Kenya
These socially conscious animals share more human-like qualities than many may think © David Lloyd

I love elephants. Spending time with them is so joyous: listening to the rumblings, watching the calves interact with their mother and, best of all, watching those calves acting tough and trying to scare everything in their way.”

Gurcharan RoopraPhotographer

2. Polar bears 

The majestic polar bear also nabbed a spot in the reimagined Big 5. This highly adaptable species reigns the Arctic with grace and prowess. Their camouflaged thick coats help them to keep warm under harsh conditions.

Polar bear cub in Wapusk National Park, Canada
Their camouflaged thick coats help them to keep warm under harsh conditions © Daisy Gilardini

The polar bear is the king of the Arctic. It’s at the top of the food chain. They don’t fear anybody.”

Daisy Gilardini Photographer

In fact, the polar bear is the world’s largest bear, as well as the biggest land-based carnivore. Its name derives from the Latin Urus maritimus meaning ‘sea bear’.1 They predominantly feed on ringed and bearded seals and can leverage their extraordinary sense of smell to locate prey from almost a kilometre away.2

3. Gorillas

The mountain gorilla can range from four to six feet in height and can weigh up to 485 pounds! They live in hierarchical troops with complex social structures, spearheaded by one alpha male. It’s no wonder that gorillas bear such uncanny resemblance to humans both in appearance and behaviour, considering they share approximately 98.4% of our DNA!3

Baby gorilla clings on to its mother
Gorillas share approximately 98.4% of our DNA © Nelis Wolmarans

With gorillas sharing 98.4 per cent of genetic make-up with humans, for me photographing them is more a case of photographing someone than something.”

Nelis Wolmarans Photographer

4. Tigers

These stunning wild cats are the world’s largest cats and can weigh up to 450 pounds on average!Tigers typically are nocturnal hunters, and their soft toe pads allow them to prowl through their habitat in search for prey without making too much noise.Devastatingly, there are approximately 3,900 tigers left in the wild due to threats including poaching, and habitat loss. These striking creatures can be hard to capture for a photograph.

Tigers stares to camera in Kabini, Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India
Tigers can weigh up to 450 pounds on average © Ramakrishnan Aiyaswamy

Photographing tigers is ripe with challenges, due to the elusive nature of the animal itself. With their ability to disappear and seemingly vanish into thin air, tigers also have this wonderful allure of mystery and magic […]”

Suzi Eszterhas Photographer

But once still, and in a position to be photographed, these creatures prove to be awe-inspiring and brimming with emotion.

The tiger is the most charismatic wild cat in the cat family. It’s an animal that will leave you spellbound, make you skip a heartbeat or even make you weak in your knees.”

Ramakrishnan AiyaswamyPhotographer

5. Lions

These powerful creatures typically live in groups of 10 or 15 animals known as ‘prides’. Born blind at birth, these land mammals begin their lives relatively helpless. As they grow into fully-fledged adults, they can run at speeds of up to 50mph!

Adult male lion fiercely stares ahead in Mara Naboisho Conservancy, Kenya
Lion can run at speeds of up to 50mph © Graeme Green

They’re powerful, noble animals, fearsome, but also capable of gentle, affectionate behaviour […] Like many other species currently, their numbers are declining rapidly due to habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict and a reduction in available prey”

Graeme GreenPhotographer and founder of the New Big 5 Project

A lion’s tremendous roar can be heard from a distance of up to eight kilometres! It is often used against rival adult male lions from intruding a pride’s territory. Despite their might, these extraordinary big cats face imminent threats to their existence. 

Whilst these reimagined ‘Big 5’ won the photography competition, many more contestants were strong runners up. From the humble termite to the mighty humpback whale, all creatures small and big play a hugely important role on our planet.

You can view all of the finalists here


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