These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

"Перед тем как карабкаться на лестницу успеха, убедитесь, что она прислонена к стене того здания, что вам нужно." Стивен Кови ZMEY
Время на прочтение: 17 минут(ы)

I photographed some of the most threatened species on Earth for this project. Some iconic, some lesser-known. Several are recognised the world over and it is surprising to find these iconic animals on the brink of extinction – animals still proudly represented in films and books, as cuddly toys in the menagerie of a child’s bedroom.

The idea that the natural world is vulnerable has only entered the modern general consciousness in the last few decades. Throughout history, nature has been considered an immeasurably vast and infinitely bountiful resource; but today the power structures have changed, and the natural world depends on us as much as we depend on it.

These are the extraordinary stories of 26 endangered species, along with each animal’s location and IUCN Red List status – the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of different species.

Scroll through this gallery of endangered animals, taken from Tim Flach’s book ‘Endangered’

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Axolotl

    Found in Mexico


    IUCN Red List status: Critically Endangered

    Recent surveys found zero numbers of axolotl in their native wetlands, which cover less than 4 square miles. Essentially, the animal is all but extinct in the wild. There are plenty of captive populations around the world, bred for pets or research, and the wetlands are undergoing restoration. But while the captives offer hope for reintroductions at some later point, they’re not ideal: every generation that breeds in captivity is a further step removed from its wild state, and is that much less likely to adjust to life in the wild. Therefore, plans to reintroduce axolotl hinge on genetic ‘injections’ from wild-caught individuals, should enough be found.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Chimpanzee

    Found in Forested West, Central and East Africa


    IUCN Red List status: Endangered

    Ruma and Vali are a mother and son living at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Their true haunts are the last big tracts of moist forest in western – central Africa, home to perhaps three hundred thousand chimpanzees. They are like us in many ways: a diet that includes meat, greenery, honey, eggs; a near-monthly estrous cycle, with singletons or twins born; close families raising kids into their teens. A century ago there were a million, but today, chimpanzees suffer attrition as their forests are cut from beneath them; many are picked off for bushmeat on the fringes of logging camps, their orphaned infants taken as pets, rendered incapable of returning to the wild. Forest loss is intensifying under palm-oil production and mining (to supply the automobile and cellphone industries, for instance). National and international laws govern all chimps, right across their range, but are poorly enforced. Chimpanzees need protection – better, stricter, faster.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Okapi

    Found in Democratic Republic of the Congo


    IUCN Red List status: Endangered

    It can take courage to stick your neck out for nature. Following an atrocious attack on the research centre at the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in 2012, its founder–director, John Lukas, marshalled his forces; the centre is back up and running, with armed rangers patrolling the reserve, rooting out elephant poachers’ traps, which are the main cause of local okapi deaths. The situation is complex, though: many locals support the rebels’ cause, complaining that too much forest has been locked up in the reserve, denying them a livelihood. As one pygmy spokesman put it, ‘We feel like the big, non-governmental organisations and the rangers have privileged the animals over the people.’ Nonetheless, the reserve, founded in 1992, remains the okapi’s sole stronghold, as well as harbouring leopards, forest buffalo, and thirteen primate species, including chimpanzees.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Polar bear

    Found in Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russian Federation, United States


    IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable

    These vast paws – spreading up to a foot (30 cm) across, with non-slip soles – make excellent paddles, just as they enable the polar bear to tread lightly on thin ice. But champion swimmers or not, the bears are being ground down by the energy drain imposed by the marathon searches for food. A 2011 study by the US Geological Survey, looking at long-term ice loss trends, reported that one radio-collared female swam a record 426 miles (685 km) non-stop over the course of twelve days; on the way, she lost 22 percent of her bodyweight and her cub perished. In fact, of eleven collared bears that made long swims, five lost their cubs. Young bears, born in midwinter in the maternal den, simply don’t have the fat reserves required for the sustained effort. Bears are additionally at risk of drowning because they cannot close off their nasal passages underwater.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Shoebill

    Found in: East Africa, from South Sudan to Zambia


    IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable

    Standing 4 feet tall, the shoebill feeds in swampy shallows, ambushing fish and frogs with a quick stab and snap. The bird resembles one of Dr. Seuss’s more sinister creations, but its unique characteristics – somewhere between a stork and a pelican – could in the end be its salvation. Its population is scattered across seven African countries, which united in 2013 to draw up a Single Species Action Plan. High on the list of threats are habitat disturbance: fires, set to renew grasslands, are a particular hazard to nestlings. And while legal trade is now very limited, uncontrolled illegal collection, mainly for private sale in the Middle East, can easily wipe out local collections. (Shoebills fare poorly in captivity, too.) The Action Plan recognised the importance of protecting the species by encouraging grass-roots support; in Bangweulu, Zambia, for instance, home to an important shoebill population, guardians drawn from local communities help protect nest sites.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Reticulated giraffe

    Found in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia


    IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable

    The giraffe population is made up of many small, isolated groups across Africa, classed in nine subspecies. While some subspecies are stable or increasing, the reticulated giraffe has suffered a fivefold drop, from about 47,000 in the 1990s to some 8,600 today. Responding to news of the giraffe’s decline, in September 2016 the IUCN called on all range states and partners to develop an Africa-wide conservation strategy and action plan for the giraffe and its relative the okapi. Kenya, home to three subspecies, is assembling an action plan: tackle illegal hunters (some of whom are after the giraffe’s bones and brains, as a supposed cure for HIV); raise awareness in local communities; and protect suitable habitat.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Forest light mushroom

    Found in Borneo


    IUCN Red List status: Not Evaluated

    Glowing fungi are rare: out of the 135,000 named species on Earth, only one hundred are bioluminescent. It’s fairly unusual, too, for a photographer to shoot a still-unnamed species: biologists Dr. Dennis E. Desjardin of San Francisco State University and Dr. Brian A. Perry of California State University East Bay named Mycena silvaelucens two years after Tim took this shot in Borneo. Like other bioluminescent fungi, the forest light mushroom emits a constant light, though, understandably, it is visible to us only after sunset. At night, when humidity is relatively high, the fungus releases its spores, some of which settle on the nocturnal insects and other arthropods that have clustered around its glow; they later carry the spores away to colonise new terrain in the forest. As Dr. Desjardin explains, ‘Natural selection may favour the metabolically expensive phenomenon of emitting light to attract spore dispersers over passive wind dispersal in closed-canopy forest.’

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Great white shark

    Found mainly in temperate coastal waters


    IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable

    In 2014, following a spate of human deaths, the state of Western Australia instigated a January-to-April cull of great white, tiger, and bull sharks. Drum lines – traps with baited hooks – were deployed along the coast, snaring 172 sharks. The cull sparked mass protests across Australia, with surveys showing that most ocean users opposed the cull on ethical grounds. In September, on the advice of its Environmental Protection Agency, the state abandoned plans to reinstate the summer cull. The decision, hailed by experts as ‘historic’ ‘remarkable’ and ‘a victory for science’ manifests a sea change in our attitude to sharks. As Andrew Fox, a great white specialist, puts it: ‘In human–shark interactions, it’s not a case of which species is more important, but whether we will make lifestyle choices to avoid conflict with a creature that does a great job of fixing up the mess we are making of the ocean environment.’

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Cheetah

    Found in: Africa, Iran


    IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable

    From its blistering pace to its wanderlust, the cheetah is uniquely specialised for a slim ecological niche: running down prey in a typically huge home range. (Ranging widely, generally by day, may be an adaptation to staying out of the way of less wide-roaming, more dangerous nocturnal predators, such as lions and hyenas, which prey on cheetah cubs.) But modern Africa’s fast-changing landscape cuts across all these refinements, and today the cheetah’s unique niche is all but extinct. Another problem is an alarmingly limited gene pool, thought to have been caused by a mammalian extinction event ten to twelve thousand years ago. All of today’s cheetahs are, essentially, as closely related as a pair of twins – they will forever be so, even if the population bounces back – and this leaves them with perilously low resistance to disease outbreaks. Managing genes is therefore a major arm of cheetah conservation.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Giant panda

    Found in Gansu, Shaanxi, and Sichuan provinces (China)


    IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable

    The panda’s shift from Endangered to Vulnerable has some experts worried – and not merely about the prospect of waning public compassion. Zhang Hemin, head of the China Conservation and Research Center for Giant Pandas (CCRCG), is concerned for the genetic viability of the wild population, given that it comprises thirty-three isolated groups – ‘some’ he adds, ‘with fewer than ten individuals, severely limiting the gene pool. Of the eighteen subpopulations consisting of fewer than ten pandas, all face a high risk of collapse.’ Meanwhile, the deadly toll from the May 2008 earthquake included five staff members at the Wolong Panda Center in Wolong Nature Reserve, Sichuan, where the CCRCG was headquartered. Two captive pandas also died at the centre, and there was severe damage to the reserve’s bamboo stands. Natural disasters have, of course, always taken their toll on panda numbers – but today, at such a critical pass, every loss has consequences.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Western lowland gorilla

    Found in Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon


    IUCN Red List status: Critically Endangered

    Biologist Alessandro Araldi, who works with the Aspinall Foundation, spends much of his time in the field with the Batéké gorillas. ‘I’m constantly surprised by the two-way conversations that are possible,’ he says. ‘And although we’re taught not to ‘read’ animal behaviour through human eyes, we can see that many gorilla gestures are attached to feelings. Each individual has such a strong personality.’ Young gorillas are constantly learning life lessons – such as which plants to eat or avoid – from siblings and from both parents. (Males are just as doting as females; if a mother dies, the silverback will care for it tenderly.) As to whether the gorillas enjoy human company, males might strut about to remind Alessandro of the pecking order, but it’s mostly just for show. And anyway, it’s generally the females who make the decisions.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Proboscis monkey

    Found in Borneo


    IUCN Red List status: Endangered

    Proboscis monkeys like to wander over a wide home range, but their home is becoming increasingly fragmented. They fare very poorly in captivity, hence preserving them means saving the forests. But in Sabah, where they (and the local elephants) are acknowledged as a flagship species and tourist drawcard, only 15 percent of the monkeys live within protected areas. Unprotected forests are being converted into shrimp farms and palm-oil plantations. The situation in neighbouring Kalimantan is equally grave. All up, one-third of Borneo’s rainforests have gone since 1973, most of it around the coastal fringes favoured by proboscis monkeys, and the notion of a ‘protected area’ offers little defence against commercial exploiters. In 2011, Norway offered Indonesia a billion dollars as incentive for protecting its forests; but it’s too little, too late. At the current rate, Borneo will have lost all of its unprotected lowland rainforests by 2020.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Philippine eagle

    Found in the Philippine islands of Leyte, Luzon, Mindanao, and Samar


    IUCN Red List status: Critically Endangered

    The fight to rescue the eagle began in earnest in 1965, when pioneering Filipino conservationists Dioscoro Rabor and Jesus Alvarez alerted the World Wildlife Fund to the bird’s plight. Robert Kennedy, a US Peace Corps volunteer, dedicated himself to studying the eagle in the wild, and founded the non-profit Films and Research for an Endangered Environment (FREE) to help publicise it. Kennedy’s 1977 population estimate of two to four hundred was a wake-up call, leading to the species’ name change (from ‘monkey-eating eagle’ which was misleading anyway) in 1978. Then in 1995 President Ramos, elevating the eagle to national bird status, called it ‘the best biological indicator of the quality of our forest ecosystems’ and ‘the flagship species in the conservation of Philippine wildlife.’ This highlights a key point: save the eagle, and you save the forests and their incredibly diverse wildlife.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Bengal tiger

    Found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russian Federation, Thailand; possibly also Laos, North Korea, Vietnam


    IUCN Red List status: Endangered

    Tiger juju is old and ingrained. In his cultural history Tracking the Weretiger, Patrick Newman cites examples from earlier times across the species’ range when locals ate tiger liver for courage, wove whiskers into rings to ward off evil, and even placed their babies over a freshly killed tiger to ‘absorb its sinewy vitality.’ Tiger clavicles were taken as lucky charms, tiger fat smeared onto sickly cattle. Today, body parts are still in demand, mostly from wealthy devotees. With the South China subspecies all but gone by 1985, poachers turned on the Bengal tiger – as evidenced by a steep rise in hauls: in August 1993, for instance, Delhi police intercepted 880 pounds of tiger bones. That same year, China ostensibly banned the use of tiger bone; while this has dampened trade, a black market persists, and there are currently tigers being farmed in parts of Asia for their products.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Livingstone’s fruit bat

    Found in the Comoros Islands


    IUCN Red List status: Critically Endangered

    For endemic species on oceanic islands, geographic isolation initially confers security. You’re safe on your fortress. But when home shrinks beyond a tipping point, there’s nowhere left to run, or even fly. Livingstone’s fruit bat, or flying fox, is a giant among bats, with a wingspan over 4 feet. It forages and roosts on the forested hillslopes on Anjouan and Mohéli, two of the Comoros Islands, which lie off East Africa. There, villagers are cutting down the trees for firewood, or clearing undergrowth to plant crops, and in just two decades they’ve stripped 75 percent of the cover. Local groups are working to spread awareness of the bats’ vital ecological role and to promote sustainable land use. Meanwhile, a captive-breeding plan, founded by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in 1992, is under way in Europe. If these off-site and on-site projects bear fruit, there’s hope for the island bat.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Yunnan snub-nosed monkey

    Found in Yunnan (China) and Tibet (southwest China)


    IUCN Red List status: Endangered

    The combination of retroussé nose and puffy lips might suggest extreme cosmetic surgery in another primate, but in the snub-nosed monkeys it confers an otherworldly beauty. The first photographs of this species were taken by Xi Zhinong when, in 1993, he was sent to document wildlife for the Chinese government. Captivated by the monkeys, he spent the next decade filming them. Later, he founded a wildlife film company – Wild China Film – and returned to the mountains to make the documentary Mystery Monkeys of Shangri-La (2015). A Yunnan native with a childhood love of nature, Xi has done more than any other human to publicise and protect the species, and not merely through his lens work. In 2005 when the government consigned a forest reserve for logging, threatening the loss of two hundred monkeys, he wrote in protest. Not only was the reserve spared, but it was also extended by 350 square miles.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    White-bellied pangolin

    Found in the Equatorial West, Central, and East Africa

    IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable

    Looking like an animated globe artichoke, the pangolin’s appearance testifies to truth being stranger than fiction. These are the only mammals with scales, which evolved as armour against big cats. Before rolling up, they may utter a snake-like hiss, and the tail is a defensive weapon, too: a hunter’s report from 1960 told of an African giant pangolin dragging a freshly throttled leopard by its neck. The long, sharp claws come in useful for burrowing and climbing, and the prehensile tail gives traction for climbing trees. Pangolins use their claws to flip dung-pats, rip into rotting wood, and lay waste to anthills and termitaries in their search for prey. The muscular tongue, longer than the head and body combined, is a sticky, whip-thin organ ideal for licking up insects; given that an adult can eat seventy million insects per year, these animals play an important role in their ecosystem.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Northern white rhinoceros

    Found in: formerly Central African Republic, Congo, South Sudan, Uganda


    IUCN Red List status: Critically Endangered

    With black-market rhino horn more highly valued than gold, an alarming rise in poaching in southern Africa is being blamed in part on the increasing involvement of organised crime. And the networks extend to Europe: in March 2017, poachers broke into the Thoiry zoo in France and shot dead Vince the southern white rhino, hacking off his horn. In response, the Czech zoo of Dvur Kralove (former home of the last living northern white rhinos) dehorned its eighteen rhinos, for fear of a similar attack. Later in March, the South African government reaffirmed its long-held plans to legalise domestic trade in rhino horn. Its strategy was to flood the market and depress the black-market value; but conservationists claim that any relaxation will simply stoke demand, which already is high. Given that one thousand of South Africa’s rhinos were killed for their horns in 2016 alone, it seems they have a point.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Saiga

    Found in Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russian Federation, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan


    IUCN Red List status: Critically Endangered

    Hunted for its meat and horns since prehistory, the saiga has proved incredibly resilient, thanks to its breeding prowess in the wild. Numbers tumbled to under a thousand in the early twentieth century, but total protection in Europe (1919) and Soviet Central Asia (1923) brought them back to around two million by mid-century. After illegal hunting led to further population plunges, a coalition of governments and NGOs leapt to the saiga’s rescue – and numbers were at last back into six figures when the disease of 2015 struck. The bacterium Pasteurella multocida, which caused the die-off, is not normally lethal, and scientists have yet to explain why it turned so deadly. One theory is that climate change had weakened the saigas’ immune systems. After a fresh infection struck again in December 2016, killing thousands more saiga, conservationists remain on high alert, yet hopeful that this endearingly bizarre mammal will manage another comeback.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Marine iguana

    Found in the Galapagos Islands


    IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable

    Charles Darwin rather harshly described the marine iguanas as ‘disgusting… imps of darkness’ – but he also found them fascinating. It is now believed they split from the Galapagos land iguanas up to 10.5 million years ago – which makes them even older than the extant islands (a paradox explained by ongoing volcanism). The world’s only marine lizards, they rest and feed in the surf zone; but they nest a few hundred yards inland. Hatchlings need no parental care, as evidenced by gripping BBC footage of young iguanas scrabbling desperately across the rocks to escape predatory racer snakes. They are, however, vulnerable to introduced rats and feral cats and dogs. Tourism, too, requires management. In 2012, for instance, the Charles Darwin Foundation worked with the local municipality to extend the Galapagos National Park around fragile nesting areas on a tourist beach.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Ring-tailed lemur

    Found in Madagascar


    IUCN Red List status: Endangered

    The most common of all Madagascar’s lemurs, the ring-tailed lemur is arguably their most iconic and persuasive ambassador, with its robber mask and luxuriant, banded tail. The spectacle of them sunbathing and bickering in zoo enclosures has helped focus public attention on their plight. Intensively studied since the 1960s, the ring-tailed lemur has nonetheless declined rapidly, and almost from under our noses – a deception that owes much to its success in captivity: today, there are more individuals in European zoos than in the wild. In the wild, these lemurs live in small social groups at low densities within isolated forest fragments. One of the largest populations, around three hundred strong, is in Berenty Reserve, southeast Madagascar. Females are dominant over males and tend to take the lead in territorial ‘stink fights’ in which the tail is used to waft scent towards opposing ‘gangs.’

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Siamese crocodile

    Found in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand


    IUCN Red List status: Critically Endangered

    Life is upside down for the Siamese crocodile. As many as one million are kept in squalid conditions on farms across Southeast Asia, where once the species had a vast range, but in the wild today it is barely hanging on in a handful of scattered river systems. It is not all bad news, though. There is a Siamese Crocodile Task Force, which liaises with conservation groups in all the range states. Reintroductions are in preparation or under way in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam (for instance, in Cat Tien National Park), and Thailand, using DNA-verified purebred crocs from farms. The success of these projects hinges on educating local people to the mutual benefits of restoring and protecting wetland habitats, offering the possibility of eco-tourism revenue. At the same time, the IUCN’s Crocodile Specialist Group has been brought in to advise on the farmed trade – a case, perhaps, of ‘let it at least be humane.’

  • African elephant

    Found in Sub-Saharan Africa


    IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable

    It was mainly Japanese demand for ivory that fuelled the calamitous fifteen years of poaching which led to the ivory ban of 1990. For a while, the ban largely worked. But in 1997 Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe sought, and won, a local downgrading to Appendix II for their large herds; that year, they legally sold 54 tons of ivory to Japan. Further legal sales followed of higher quantities in 2002 and 2008 – in hopes that it would swamp the markets and inhibit poaching. All it did was reignite demand, fanned by the soaring economies of China and Thailand, and the trade actually tripled over the five years to 2012. But public education efforts are at last taking effect, and in 2016 China banned its legal trade. It’s hoped that this will not drive the traffic underground, but reinforce the message that ivory is best left on elephants, hippos, and narwhals.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Blue-throated macaw

    Found in Bolivia


    IUCN Red List status: Critically Endangered

    Ransacked for the pet trade, the wild population of this macaw, fewer than 250 mature birds, is barely genetically viable. But with live export now largely eradicated, numbers are beginning to stabilise. Like other macaws, the blue-throated macaw nests in holes in old trees, many of which have been cleared; but most landowners are now supportive of initiatives to install next boxes and plant food trees. The biggest flocks today are found in the 42-square-mile (108 sq. km) Barba Azul Nature Reserve, in Bolivia’s Beni region, home to more than 140 bird species. The fortunes of its nest box program evoke that old proverb about leading a horse to water: of twenty-two boxes erected in the north of the reserve in 2014, seven were used by ducks, one by a barn owl… and none by macaws. But success with nest boxes elsewhere suggests that, with these slow-breeding birds, patience is a virtue that will pay off.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Beluga sturgeon

    Found in the Black and Caspian Seas and associated rivers


    IUCN Red List status: Critically Endangered

    In winters long past, sturgeon measuring 16 feet or more, some reliably over a century old, would glide deep in Eurasian seas to suck up their fish prey. In spring, sturgeon migrate up rivers to traditional spawning grounds; the hatched young then thread their way back to the sea and stay there until mature, entailing a wait of a decade or two. But the giant sturgeon are gone, and it’s easy to see what went wrong for a slow-growing, river-dependent fish whose eggs sell for up to US$9,000 per pound. Dam projects – on the Volga, Don, Terek, Sulak, and other rivers – have impounded the sturgeon’s spawning grounds, and fishing continues illegally for the caviar, meat, skin, and other body parts. With its wild population dwindling despite bolstering from protective legislation and captive-breeding programs, the sturgeon is sinking into extinction.

  • These portraits of endangered animals prove just how special they are

    Monarch butterfly

    Found in the Americas (southern Canada to northern Brazil), Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, New Zealand, Spain, Timor-Leste, and several Pacific and Atlantic islands


    IUCN Red List status: Not Evaluated

    In 1976, with the Mexican summer quarters now known, the World Congress of Entomology set the monarchs’ plight as its top priority. These New World wanderers have spread far – they’ve colonised Spain, Australia, and New Zealand – and, as yet, the species is not endangered. Nonetheless, in 1983, the IUCN took the unprecedented step of creating a new category in the Invertebrate Red Data Book, in order to list the monarch migration as a Threatened Phenomenon. This is because the numbers of American migrants are falling sharply. Every year, volunteers conduct a Thanksgiving count run by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and the figures for 1997–2016 show a 74 percent decline in California’s overwintering monarchs, with a slump of 80–90 percent in Michoacán over the same period. This trend paints a dire picture requiring a coordinated solution.

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