The Results Are In: We Have a New Big Five (9 minute read)

Introducing the New Big Five! You are probably familiar with the traditional Big Five. They are those iconic African species which people long to see in the wild, the reason for shelling out the money to head on safari to Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia or South Africa. The majestic lion. The elusive leopard. The rare and threatened rhino. The trumpeting elephant. And the angry buffalo. But do you know how these animals came to be known as the Big Five? They were the animals most prized by wealthy big game hunters. These people used to come to Africa in their droves to shoot these beautiful creatures and mount their heads on the wall or turn their tusks into piano keys.

Thankfully, these trophy hunting days are now mostly behind us, and there is a new preferred way to shoot wildlife. With a camera, not a gun. And this is where the New Big Five comes in. Launched by British photographer Graeme Greene in collaboration with NGO’s, photographers and conservationists including Dr Jane Goodall, the project aims to raise awareness of the plight of the world’s wildlife, with threats such as climate change, the illegal wildlife trade and deforestation pushing species to the brink. Celebrating life instead of death, the project aims to drive action to protect threatened species around the world.

People have voted in their thousands to decide which animals will form the New Big Five. And the results are now in.

Without further ado, lets meet the New Big Five!

 

Elephant

As the world’s largest living land mammal, it is no surprise that the elephant keeps its place in the New Big Five. Living in giant herds and transforming their environment by knocking over trees and spreading seeds, elephants are at the top of most people’s “must-see” list on safari in Africa. And in countries such as Sri Lanka, the Asian elephant is equally as impressive.

Sadly, around 55 elephants are still being killed every single day by poachers, threatening the survival of this iconic species. Demand for ivory continues to fuel this destruction, despite the efforts of governments, national park rangers and conservationists. The good news is that there is plenty of scope to turn this around. Africa could support many thousands more elephants if the killing were to stop and they were allowed to recolonise old areas. And in places such as Kenya, this is happening. The country currently has double the number of wild elephants it had in 1989, around 34,000, This is largely thanks to conservation efforts and tourism – travellers bring millions of dollars into Kenya’s economy every year, incentivizing the government to protect the elephants they come to see.

See elephants in the wild with us! Our Africa safari tours visit some of the best national parks in east and southern Africa, whilst you can spot Asian elephants in the wild during our trips to Sri Lanka.

Elephants are one of the members of the New Big Five
African elephants in Addo National Park, South Africa

Polar bear

The polar bear is a majestic creature. With snow white fur it blends into its Arctic home seamlessly, sneaking up on seals and other prey animals to feed. The polar bear is one of the world’s largest carnivores and relies heavily on Arctic sea ice to survive. If there is no more ice, there are very few places the polar bear could survive.

Unsurpsingly then, climate change is the biggest threat to this species. There are an estimated 23,000 wild polar bears left across the Arctic Circle. But as sea ice declines, these numbers are expected to fall sharply. Bears are also having to wander more in order to find food, bringing them into contact with humans, which can be a cause of conflict.

A global charge to tackle greenhouse gas emissions is the best chance we have to secure the future of the polar bear – once again, the fate of this incredible animal is entirely in our hands.

If you’d like to see polar bears in the wild, why not join our Svalbard Explorer tour? Take in the remote Norwegian archipelago, which is home to far more bears than people!

Polar bear in Svalbard, Norway
Svalbard in Norway is one of the best places to see polar bears in the wild

Lion

Another survivor from the original list, the African lion is in more trouble than many people realise. Synonymous with Africa, many people presume that lions survive in good numbers. In fact, they inhabit just 8% of their former range. And numbers have halved in the last 25 years to a wild population of just 20,000 – 25,000.

Hunting for bushmeat of their prey animals, habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict are the main drivers behind this decline. Lions are struggling to survive outside of Africa’s protected areas, and even in trouble within some of these sanctuaries. They are the top predator in the food chain, meaning the entire ecosystem can fall out of equilibrium if there aren’t enough lions to keep down the numbers of herbivores.

There is also a tiny population of lions living in India’s Gir Forest, in a fragment of their former range.

If you’d like to see African lions on tour with us then join us on safari in east and southern Africa, where lions still reside safely in many places.

The lion has kept its place in the New Big Five
The majestic African Lion certainly deserves to keep its place in the New Big Five

Gorilla

Gorillas are some of our closest relatives, sharing much of our DNA. In the mountainous rainforests of Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo, mountain gorillas have seen contrasting fortunes. Thanks to poaching and habitat loss, numbers fell as low as 620 in 1989. But thanks to dedicated conservation efforts by government and NGO’s, and tourism which employs so many local people and pays for ranger salaries and snare removal, things are looking up. There are now more than 1,000 mountain gorillas across three national parks, with numbers continuing to grow. Other sub-species of gorilla are not faring so well, but there is hope that the conservation of this amazing species is beginning to turn a corner.

Head into the steamy jungles of Uganda to see wild gorillas for yourself with our range of gorilla trekking tours. Your money will help to fund the protection of this iconic species for years to come.

Mountain gorillas in the jungles of Uganda
Mountain gorillas inhabit just four national parks in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo

Tiger

The magnificent tiger is the true king of the jungle. The rarest of all big cats, wild tiger numbers stand at around 3,900, with a staggering 20,000 in captivity. It is thought there are more captive tigers in the USA than there are wild tigers in the entire world. With several subspecies already extinct, and others, such as the Sumatran tiger, rapidly heading in that direction, things need to change quickly.

Thankfully, they seem to be. It is now more than a decade since all the countries home to wild tigers signed up to a pledge to double wild tiger numbers between 2010 and 2020. And some of the results have been incredible. In India, wild tiger numbers have more than doubled since 2006, with more than 3,300 wild tigers now living across the country. And in Nepal, around 235 tigers now exist where there were just 121 in 2009. Russia, China and Bhutan have also seen tiger numbers bounce back.

There is still work to do in the rapidly shrinking forests of Southeast Asia, with snares and habitat loss already driving the tiger to extinction in Laos and Cambodia. But this effort shows what can be done when the world comes together to protect wildlife.

If you join our Shere Khan tiger tour of India, not only will you have a great chance to spot this iconic species in the wild, but we’ll also make a donation to TOFTtigers, working through sustainable travel to continue the rebound of tiger numbers in the country.

Tigers certainly belong in the New Big Five
The resurgence of tigers in India shows what can be done when there is the political will to do it

What’s the point of all this?

The New Big Five all face threats to their survival, which is why the project is so important. Species around the world are in peril as we head into the man-made sixth mass extinction. We need to do all we can to protect what we have left and restore what we have lost.

This article is evidence that it can be done, with political will, public pressure and financial clout. The single best thing you can do is to join a wildlife charity, helping to fund protection of these species and many more, at home and abroad. But tourism can help too. By visiting countries to see their wildlife, you are helping to support the local economy. Paying the wages of rangers and tour guides means these people are much less likely to turn to poaching to feed their families. It also shows governments how much protected wildlife areas are worth to their economies. We have a lot to do, but it can be done!

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