Books

The new Big 5 project shoots wildlife 'with a camera, not a gun'

Wildlife photographer Graeme Green redefines ‘The Big 5’ to draw attention to the brutal colonial origins of the term

Polar Bear by Graeme Green

Polar Bear. Status, Vulnerable. Wapusk National Park, Manitoba, Canada. Image: Hao Jiang

The ‘Big 5’ is an old term used by colonial-era hunters in Africa for the most prized and dangerous animals to kill: elephant, rhino, leopard, Cape buffalo and lion. The idea of killing animals for fun has always seemed outdated and cruel to me. Wildlife photography, on the other hand, is a brilliant way to celebrate the natural world and to highlight the threats currently facing many wild animals. 

Elephant by Graeme Green
Elephant. Akagera, Rwanda. Image: Graeme Green

That’s why I launched The New Big 5 Project, inviting people around the world to vote for the five animals they most like to photograph and see in photos – shooting with a camera, not a gun.

Lion by Graeme Green
Lion. Image: Graeme Green

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More than 50,000 voted. The New Big 5 of Wildlife & Wildlife Photography was announced in May 2021: elephant, polar bear, lion, gorilla and tiger. These five all face threats to their existence. As the project ran, it was interesting to receive messages from people who had heard and used the original Big 5 term without knowing where it came from. Many had assumed it meant Africa’s biggest animals. Others thought it meant the most dangerous or lethal. Still others believed the list was based on the most popular or charismatic animals, which is an odd thought – there are many animals (cheetahs, gorillas, giraffes, zebras, chimps) that have a more powerful hold on people’s emotions than the humble Cape buffalo. 

Mountain gorillas by Graeme Green
Mountain gorillas, Volcanos NP, Rwanda. Image: Graeme Green.

Conservationists I heard from felt it was insulting to their work stopping animals from going extinct for a term to be used that’s connected to the hunting that wiped out vast numbers of wild animals across Africa. Other word usage is jarring, like ‘sport’ hunting, when animals often don’t have any kind of ‘sporting’ chance, or the heroic-sounding ‘trophy’ for an activity that is in no way heroic.

Bengal tigers by Graeme Green
Bengal tigers. Ranthambore National Park, India. IUCN status, Endangered. Image: Vladimir Cech Jr.

Today there are many threats to wild animals, including habitat loss and the killing of animals for body parts (skins, scales, teeth, bones) as well as climate change. Looking at the photos is a powerful reminder of the beauty and diversity of the natural world, and what we stand to lose if we don’t take action to protect wildlife and the planet.

The New Big 5 project did a great job of highlighting endangered species and exploring available ideas and solutions. It was always my hope to produce a book – the next step in the mission. The New Big 5: A Global Photography Project For Endangered Wildlife brings together over 165 of the world’s greatest photographers, conservationists, and experts in a mission not only to celebrate the beauty of the animal world, but to raise awareness of the serious threats facing many species.

The book contains 226 incredible photos of endangered species from 146 globally renowned photographers, including Marsel van Oosten, Ami Vitale, Paul Nicklen, Karine Aigner, Steve McCurry, Brian Skerry, Marina Cano, Beverly Joubert, Gurcharan Roopra, Thomas Mangelsen, Gael R. Vande weghe, Art Wolfe, Jonathan and Angela Scott, Cristina Mittermeier and many more.

While wildlife photography is often dominated by white, Western male photographers, the book showcases photography from a diverse group of male and female photographers from around 35 countries, including Botswana, Mexico, India, Kenya, Ecuador, Kuwait, China, Brazil, Japan, as well as the US, Canada, UK and across Europe.

The New Big 5: A Global Photography Project for Endangered Wildlife by Graeme Green is out now (Earth Aware Editions; £62). For more on the New Big 5 project, see newbig5.com and follow on Instagram @newbig5project

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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