The Reasons Why Animals Are Endangered: A Look at Tim Flach's Remarkable Photo Anthology

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The Bengal tiger is among the few endangered species that has benefited from government conservation efforts. Still, its numbers continue to dwindle. Photograph by Tim Flach

In August 2016, Tim Flach sat for hours in a pit in a remote part of southeast Russia. His goal: to snap a photo of the critically endangered saiga antelope. The heat was intense, and the few images he got were blurred and unusable. When he returned some six months later, it was winter and well below freezing, but he got the shot he needed.

It took Flach, an award-winning photographer, about two years to put together his new anthology, Endangered, and along the way he had many such adventures. He trekked through Gabon, Africa, in search of gorillas, photographed polar bears on Arctic ice floes, and, in Kenya, looked the last male northern white rhino right in the eye. Earlier this year, that rhino died, leaving yet another species close to extinction.

It’s hard to quantify exactly how many species are going extinct; scientists are constantly discovering new ones. But the World Wildlife Foundation estimates it is at least 10,000 every year. And the causes mostly involve humans: hunting, pollution, urbanization and overfishing.

In his 2012 book, More Than Human, Flach’s striking portraits of animals—a pensive-looking panda, a chicken frolicking across the frame—sought to highlight the similarities between humans and the natural world. In Endangered, he uses the same method to draw attention to our effects on it.

Many of the animals in Endangered are familiar. Others, such as the Lord Howe Island stick insect and the white-bellied pangolin, are more obscure. And while it is relatively easy to get readers interested in cuddly pandas, it is more challenging to get them to care about the Partula snail.

Sometimes Flach looked outside the real world for the comparison. His pied tamarin, a primate from the Brazilian Amazon, is hunched over, its wrinkly face framed by a fuzzy white mane. He looks, Flach says, like Yoda, the Jedi master from Star Wars.

“When people look at that image, it makes an impression,” Flach told Newsweek. “It is so important for people to understand the changes that are unfolding.”


FE_Endangered_14 This golden snub-nosed monkey has quite the mane, which protects it from the brutal winters in the mountains of central China. But it’s not the cold that threatens these primates, it’s humankind. Only about 150 remain due to poaching and deforestation. Photograph by Tim Flach FE_Endangered_13 White-bellied pangolins can roll into an armor-coated ball to protect themselves. But that doesn’t help when they’re hunted by humans. Native to equatorial Africa, they are highly valued for their meat, skin and scales. Photograph by Tim Flach FE_Endangered_11 Meet the lemur leaf frog, a little croaker that can change color and likes to snack on insects. Due to disease and habit destruction, there aren’t many of these guys left in their native Panama and Costa Rica. Photograph by Tim Flach FE_Endangered_10 Gharials are some of the world’s longest crocodiles. Thousands of them used to live in the rivers of India and other parts of South Asia. Today, only a few hundred remain in the wild, as humans have destroyed their natural habitat. Photograph by Tim Flach FE_Endangered_09 Experts once believed the ploughshare tortoise was extinct. It isn't, but poachers hunt the species for its shell. Which is why conservationists engrave them, a painless procedure that drives down their value. Photograph by Tim Flach FE_Endangered_08 Sea angels: It’s a pretty name, but these little swimmers are actually slugs that live in the water. As the ocean grows more acidic due to increased carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, their main food source—sea butterflies—is being threatened. Talk about a butterfly effect. Photograph by Tim Flach FE_Endangered_07 In Madagascar, the crowned sifaka lemur, a tree-dwelling animal with great jumping abilities, has seen its habitat come under assault. Poachers also hunt it for its meat and fur. Photograph by Tim Flach FE_Endangered_05 This portrait of the pied tamarin, a primate in Brazil, was inspired by Yoda, the "Star Wars" character. For his latest project, photographer Tim Flach sometimes turned to science fiction for inspiration. Photograph by Tim Flach FE_Endangered_04 The Philippine eagle is still hunted for sport, even as mining and urbanization continue to destroy its habitat. There are only hundreds left in the wild. Photograph by Tim Flach FE_Endangered_03 Thanks to help from the Chinese government, the giant panda population has grown in recent years. But it’s still at risk, as is its main source of food, bamboo. Photograph by Tim Flach FE_Endangered_02 A western lowland gorilla who was rescued and reintroduced into the forests of Gabon, Africa. Photograph by Tim Flach FE_Endangered_01 A shoebill is a large, stork-like bird that hunts in the disappearing swamps of East Africa. Photograph by Tim Flach