Extraordinary photographs that show the human side of endangered animals
Anthropomorphism – the attribution of human characteristics to an animal – has long been a scorned concept in biological science. The principle that the minds of animals should not be compared to our own has been rooted in studies since the Victorian era.
But with wildlife in crisis and 20 per cent of the world’s species at risk of extinction, there is an increasing acceptance that highlighting the emotional connection between humans and animals can help reverse this destructive trend.
‘Even though the science is out there, until we feel it in our hearts and minds we are not moved to take action,’ says Tim Flach, a London-based photographer known for his highly personalised images of animals.
Flach’s new book Endangered aims to redress the ‘otherness’ of the natural world with portraits of animals that emphasise the very human elements of their personalities.
He spent 20 months shooting images, travelling from continent to continent. But despite tracking many animals in the wild, some of his most remarkable encounters were in zoos and sanctuaries, where he could spend time eliciting the emotions and characteristics we share.
The aim of these portraits is to provoke the thought that deep down we are moved by the same impulses as white-bellied pangolins, golden snub-nosed monkeys and hippopotami. And bring into focus the observation once made by Sir David Attenborough that ‘if we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves’.
Habitat loss, land degradation, hunting and climate change have pushed so many species to the brink that many scientists believe we are entering the sixth great extinction in the history of the planet (the fifth occurred 65 million years ago).
The difference now is these changes are being driven by us. We have never been so removed from the natural rhythms of the planet.
As expressed by Dr Jonathan Baillie, chief scientist at the National Geographic Society, who collaborated on Flach’s book: ‘We need to place greater value on forms of life other than our own.’
Words – Joe Shute