Tim Flach, Endangered. Text by Professor Jonathan Baillie, Sam Welles
First published in Australia in 2017 by Thames&Hudson, 336p
Endangered is one of the most beautiful yet saddest books I have ever read. It shows the complexity and the greatness of the natural world while highlighting the real dangers some of the living creatures face. Do you know those situations when a concept or a term is overused so it becomes meaningless? I think sometimes it is the same when referring to endangered species. We acknowledge it is a global problem but little is done.
Powerful books like Flach’s project (that took years of intensive work) turn into educational tools to inform people, to inspire them to respect the natural world and ultimately to help them understand the significance of becoming active defenders of the wildlife.
I took good moments after finishing reading and contemplating the book to get myself together. I was impressed with Flach’s talent, I experienced so many emotions, from joy, to disappointment, to fury and then hope. Endangered is a book where art, good narrative and interesting scientific facts combine to deliver a powerful message. One of the aspects that make our planet unique is its diversity and complexity and nowadays it seems that people need to learn again to respect and protect the natural world.
Such a strong connection with our natural world is not some strange or arcane feeling: theories like the Gaia hypothesis have attempted to explain the incredible complexity of our planet, with its remarkable homeostatic capabilities – that perfect equilibrium that permits, sustain, and fuels life on our planet. Of course, if we cannot understand how Earth is able to maintain this environment for flourishing life, we will be unaware of the tipping point at which we may damage irreversibly., Tim Falch says in the Introduction
Traveling worldwide, Falch wanted to capture not only the endangered species but also their natural environment, explaining that once the habitat is removed or destroyed, a whole ecosystem is affected. Poaching, pollution, climate change, deforestation for urbanization, mining, overfishing and overhunting are the main reasons our planet is facing a crisis and the stories in the book will clearly explain this.
Elephants demonstrate advanced spatial cognition, self-awareness, an excellent memory, and deep emotional relations, forming lifelong friendships and mourning their dead. They use language and, somewhat like whales, can communicate across several miles using infrasonic vibrations, sent through the ground and received through the feet and trunk.
During droughts, they dig for water and create oases that save other animals. They eat large fruits and excrete the seeds, dispersing trees and strengthening ecosystems. Yet elephants are still being killed at alarming rates, feeding a century-old trade in leather, bushmeat, and ivory – the unique “big tuskers” of Kenya now number just a few dozen.
Some consider Asian elephants more secure, as their females lack the tusks prized by poachers, but the male population is still plummeting, which reduces genetic variation and slows the rate of reproduction. The ivory trade has become so intense it has even forced an evolutionary effect: tusk-free males have begun to emerge.
Impressive portraits of some of the species are added in the book so that readers have the chance to look them in the eye and hopefully understand the importance of the subject.
Professor Jonathan Baillie, who signs the Epilogue of the book, has a few very pertinent conclusions regarding humans and the relationship with the natural world. We are not an endangered species yet buy we do need the other forms of life and we are part of the ecosystems they create.
All our great ape relatives are either endangered or critically endangered. Many of the iconic animals represented in children’s books are threatened – elephants, rhinos, giraffes, lions, and tigers. Clearly our cultural relationship with nature needs to shift if we are not even capable of protecting the species that society cares about most. … Humans are the only great apes that are not listed in this book, as we are currently far from threatened, but we, too, are losing our natural habitat. It is interesting to contemplate what a human is when isolated from its natural environment. Understanding the implications of this human isolation may likely explain many of the challenges faced by urban communities, such as high levels of violence, obesity, and depression.
Images copyright © Tim Flach
Complement Endangered with Sea by Mark Laita, an impressive collection of sea creatures portraits that illustrate the fascinating world beneath the surface.