Meet the New Big 5 – the world's favorite animals to shoot with a camera

The New Big 5
Thomas Vijayan’s Bengal tiger, Bandhavgarh National Park, India “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, which is 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.” (Image credit: The New Big 5)

The New Big 5 is an international project I started working on in 2019. The ‘big five’ is an old term used by colonial-era hunters in Africa for the most prized and dangerous animals to shoot and kill: elephant, rhino, leopard, Cape buffalo and lion. I thought there was a better idea: to celebrate the animals that we share the planet with using photography, rather than hunting. 

I first had the idea of a new big five of wildlife photography around a decade ago, when I was on assignment in Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans. Maybe it was hearing the word ‘shooting’, used for taking pictures, that sparked something, but the genesis was more from thinking about the idea that trophy hunting is an outdated concept, something that belongs to the past, and that wildlife photography is much more meaningful to people these days. 

Majed Alzaabi’s mountain gorilla, Bwindi, Uganda.  “Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is one of the national parks in Uganda. The higher we went up the mountain, the humidity was greater and the temperature increased, as the forest density decreased. The target was to reach The Rushegura Mountain Gorilla Family to take photos of mountain gorillas. When we reached the family, we spent around an hour with them taking photos. I remember that on this day, I took 1000 frames because of the astonishment of the scene and the family feeding and the children playing. It was very relaxing. The silverback was very close to the team and he also mated in close proximity to us. After an hour had passed, rain began to fall and the family started to go under the trees and complete their feeding away from the rain. But the heroine, Kibandi, remained in the same place and attracted my attention in the moments when she closed her eyes for a while. Then, cutting those beautiful moments, the voice of our guide, telling us it was time to go. I was very pleased with this picture, which is the most beautiful shot on that trip. Gorillas are such incredible animals. Thanks to conservation efforts, their numbers are steadily increasing, a sign that change is possible if the right actions are taken.”   (Image credit: The New Big 5)

I launched the project in early 2020, not long after the pandemic hit. I created the New Big 5 website with podcasts, photo galleries, interviews and articles, plus a request for people to vote for their five favourite animals to photograph and see in photos. Incredibly, around 50,000 people from around the world voted. 

High five

Initially, I just thought it was a cool idea and something that should exist as a counter to the original; a big five of photography, rather than hunting. But as I started working on it, I wanted to focus the project on highlighting the threats that are facing wildlife, such as climate change, poaching, the illegal wildlife trade and the loss of vital habitats. 

Hao Jiang’s  polar bear, Wapusk National Park, Canada “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 – 40 degrees C, 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.” (Image credit: The New Big 5)

The New Big 5 was never intended as an anti-trophy hunting campaign; as a journalist and photographer, I’ve seen many of the issues facing wildlife first-hand, and I wanted to do something to raise awareness and hopefully help, by flagging problems and discussing solutions. 

It was always my hope to produce a New Big 5 book – the next step in my mission.  With 225 incredible wildlife photos from 146 global photographers, the book has a chapter for each species in the New Big 5 – elephant, lion, polar bear, gorilla, tiger. The aim of the project was not to just focus on big iconic species, but to get people interested in all kinds of creatures and issues around them. There’s an extensive chapter on many endangered species, including frogs, penguins, spiders, lemurs, sharks, vultures, manta rays, rhinos, whales, cheetahs and turtles. 

Vicki Jauron’s African lions, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. “I took this photo of a lioness gently carrying one of her two young cubs to a new hiding place in the Maasai Mara in Kenya.  Knowing there was a lioness with cubs nearby, we were thrilled when we saw her emerge from the grass early one morning, carrying one of her cubs so very tenderly. The cubs are probably no more than three weeks old. For their protection, the lioness will stash them away while she hunts and coming back to nurse them. Mortality rates are high for cubs of this age, as they are vulnerable to predation and infanticide, as well as sickness. With only an estimated 20,000 lions left in the wild, I hope both these cubs have the opportunity to grow to adulthood and carry on the species.”  (Image credit: The New Big 5)

I wanted to create something positive and hopeful, even though the situation we’re in is dire. The message of the book is that all creatures, from termites to tigers, are essential to the balance of nature, healthy ecosystems, and the future of life on Earth. The book points the way to a wilder, fairer world; a path available to us if we choose to take that route.

Gurcharan Roopra’s African elephants, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. “I love elephants. Spending time with them is so joyous: listening to the rumblings, watching the calves interact with their mother and watching those calves acting touch and trying to scare everything in their way. We all know it’s the strength of the adults in the back is what everyone is really scared off. They really are ‘gentle giants’. This photo was taken in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. I have a clear memory of the elephants walking across the Mara plains at sunset. I was so amazing to see how the family unit came together and followed the young teenager with the matriarch at the back. I would have expected it to be the opposite, since experience has taught me that the matriarch always makes sure that she can see the whole of her family. African elephants were recently listed by the IUCN as Endangered. They face many threats, including the continuing poaching for their tusks for ivory. The biggest challenge in the Mara is human-wildlife conflict, though. Over many occasions, I have supported my friends at Mara Elephant Project and the Amboseli Trust for Elephants with anything I can do to help them.” (Image credit: The New Big 5)

The New Big 5 project did a great job at highlighting endangered species and threats facing animals around the world. I want the book to do the same and to make a difference. This book is a powerful reminder of the incredible beauty and diversity of the natural world, and what we stand to lose if we don’t take urgent action to protect wildlife and the planet.  

About The New Big 5

The New Big 5

(Image credit: The New Big 5)

The New Big 5: A Global Photography Project For Endangered Wildlife is out now (Earth Aware Editions; £62/$75), available at Insight and Amazon, with a foreword by Paula Kahumbu and an afterword by Jane Goodall. You can also follow the New Big 5 project on Instagram. Graeme Green is a journalist, photographer, and author.

N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine

N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine is a monthly magazine that's written by Nikon enthusiasts for Nikon enthusiasts, you can be sure that all the content is 100% relevant to you! So for the best Nikon-focused news, reviews, projects and a whole lot more, subscribe to N-Photo today – with our unmissable sub deal!

Check out our latest subscription offer!

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Adam Waring

Adam has been the editor of N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine for almost 12 years, and as such is one of Digital Camera World's leading experts when it comes to all things Nikon-related. 

Whether it’s reviews and hands-on tests of the latest Nikon cameras and lenses, sharing his skills using filters, tripods, lighting, L brackets and other photography equipment, or trading tips and techniques on shooting landscapes, wildlife and almost any genre of photography, Adam is always on hand to provide his insights. 

Prior to his tenure on N-Photo, Adam was also a veteran of publications such as PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine, so his wealth of photographic knowledge isn’t solely limited to the Big N.