The “Big Five” Are No Longer Animals to Hunt, But to Photograph

Sophie Hirsh - Author

May 17 2021, Published 11:55 a.m. ET

The New Big Five
Source: Getty Images

From now on, the big five will no longer refer to the most challenging animals to hunt in Africa — instead, it will celebrate the top five endangered animals to photograph.

A group of photographers and conservationists recently came together to redefine the centuries-old big five as the “New Big 5,” and they hope this will help bring attention to how desperately some of the world’s endangered animals need our conservation efforts. 

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Source: Getty Images

What is the big five?

According to National Geographic, trophy hunters devised the phrase “the big five” during Africa’s colonial period in the late 19th century. At the time, the term referred to the five wild animals who trophy hunters found to be the hardest — and most dangerous — animals to hunt on foot. Since then, the big five has been considered: the African buffalo (or the Cape buffalo), elephant, leopard, lion, and rhinoceros. 

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However, Natalia Borrego of the University of Minnesota Lion Center told National Geographic that many have started using the phrase to simply refer to the big five animals to see while on a safari through Africa. But still, those animals are hunted all too often.

The New Big 5 celebrates conservation, not killing.

To combat this, British photographer Graeme Green recently launched an international initiative called the “New Big 5,” which aims to reframe the big five to refer to “photography, not hunting. Shooting with a camera, not a gun.”

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“The world’s wildlife is in crisis. The next 10 years are critical,” reads the New Big 5 website. “More than a million species are currently at risk of extinction … We want the New Big 5 project to focus attention on all of the world’s incredible wildlife and the urgent need to act together globally to save these animals, our planet, and ourselves. Change is possible.”

The organizers behind the initiative asked the public to vote for the wild animals they like seeing photos of most, and over 50,000 people cast votes. As of mid-May 2021, the results are in, and the New Big 5 animals are: the elephant, gorilla, lion, polar bear, and tiger. 

According to The Guardian, all five species that made the new list are classified as either critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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A coalition of over 250 conservationists, wildlife photographers, conservationists, and related charities signed on as supporters of the New Big 5 initiative, including primatologist Jane Goodall, musician Moby, actress Joanna Lumley, actor Eugenio Derbez, and PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk, as well as Greenpeace, Save the Elephants, and WWF.

"I hope the five animals people have chosen for the New Big 5 can focus people's minds on what's happening to the world's wildlife," Graeme Green, who plans to publish a book of photography about the New Big 5, told CNN. "They are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the crisis facing the world's wildlife ... but these five iconic animals can be global ambassadors and stand for all the other species facing the threat of extinction."

Animal conservation is so important — and as we campaign for governments to give endangered and threatened animals the protections they need, creating awareness through initiatives like the New Big 5 can make a big difference.

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