5 animals that have become symbols of human impact on the environment

Every movement needs symbols and images that unite campaigners towards a common goal – and the environmental movement is no exception.

Not too long ago, David Attenborough’s new documentary series Our Planet created another of these symbols: a walrus falling off a cliff, which has been happening to these animals as a result of climate change.

The frightening footage has sparked a strong reaction on social media and widespread outrage that humans are having such a horrendous impact on the environment and the animals that live in it.

“Viewers want to see beautiful images of our beautiful planet and its amazing wildlife in programs like this,” says Friends of the Earth campaigner Emma Priestland. “So when they are confronted with shocking evidence of the devastating impact our lifestyle is having on animals, it is not surprising that they begin to demand some kind of action,” she added.

The pain and suffering of animals is hard to watch, but it is these shots that evoke the strongest reaction from viewers and make people think about the changes they can make in their lives for the sake of nature.

Programs like Our Planet have played a critical role in raising public awareness of environmental damage, Priestland said. Priestland added: “Now we need to ensure that the concerns that many people have about this situation translate into comprehensive action by governments and businesses around the world.”

Here are 5 of the most influential images of climate change-affected animals that motivate people to take action.


1. Walruses in the TV series Our Planet

David Attenborough’s new documentary series “Our Planet” caused a strong reaction on social networks – the audience was shocked with walruses falling from the top of a cliff.

In the second episode of the Netflix series Frozen Worlds, the team explores the impact of climate change on Arctic wildlife. The episode describes the fate of a large group of walruses in northeastern Russia, whose lives have been affected by climate change.

According to Attenborough, a group of more than 100 walruses are forced “out of desperation” to gather on the beach because their usual marine habitat has shifted north, and now they have to look for solid land. Once on land, walruses climb an 000-meter cliff in search of a “place to rest”.

“Walruses can’t see well when they’re out of the water, but they can sense their brethren below,” Attenborough says in this episode. “When they feel hungry, they try to return to the sea. At the same time, many of them fall from a height, to climb which it was not laid in them by nature.

This episode’s producer Sophie Lanfear said, “Every day we were surrounded by many dead walruses. I don’t think there have ever been so many dead bodies around me. It was very hard.”

“We all need to think about how we consume energy,” Lanfear added. “I would like people to realize how important it is to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources for the sake of the environment.”


2. The pilot whale from the movie Blue Planet

No less violent was the reaction of the audience in 2017 to the Blue Planet 2, in which a mother whale mourns her dead newborn calf.

Spectators were horrified as they watched the mother carry the dead body of her cub with her for several days, unable to let go.

In this episode, Attenborough revealed that the cub “may have been poisoned by the contaminated mother’s milk” – and this is the result of the pollution of the seas.

“If the flow of plastics and industrial pollution in the oceans is not reduced, marine life will be poisoned by them for many centuries to come,” Attenborough said. “The creatures that live in the oceans are perhaps more distant from us than any other animal. But they are not far enough away to avoid the effects of human activity on the environment.”

After watching this scene, many viewers decided to stop using plastic, and this episode played a key role in shaping the global movement against plastic pollution.

For example, British supermarket chain Waitrose made from its 2018 annual report that 88% of their customers who watched Blue Planet 2 have since actually changed their minds about plastic consumption.


3 Starving Polar Bear

In December 2017, a starving polar bear appeared viral – in just a few days millions of people watched it.

This video was filmed in the Canadian Baffin Islands by National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen, who predicted that the bear was likely dead days or even hours after he filmed it.

“This polar bear is starving,” National Geographic magazine explained in its article, answering questions the company received from people who watched the video. “Clear signs of this are a lean body and protruding bones, as well as atrophied muscles, which indicate that he was starving for a long period of time.”

According to National Geographic, polar bear populations are most at risk in regions with seasonal ice that melts completely in the summer and only returns in the fall. When the ice melts, the polar bears living in the region survive on the stored fat.

But rising global temperatures have meant that seasonal ice is melting faster – and polar bears have to survive longer and longer periods on the same amount of fat stores.


4. Seahorse with Q-tip

Another photographer from National Geographic, Justin Hoffman, took a picture that also highlighted the significant impact plastic pollution has on marine life.

Taken near the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, a seahorse is shown with its tail firmly holding a Q-tip.

According to National Geographic, seahorses often cling to floating objects with their tails, which helps them navigate ocean currents. But this image highlighted just how deep plastic pollution has penetrated the ocean.

“Of course, I wish there was no such material for photographs in principle, but now that the situation is like this, I want everyone to know about it,” Hoffman wrote on his Instagram.

“What started as a photo opportunity for a cute little seahorse turned into frustration and sadness as the tide brought with it countless trash and sewage,” he added. “This photograph serves as an allegory for the current and future state of our oceans.”


5. A small orangutan

Although not a real orangutan, the animated character Rang-tan from a short film produced by Greenpeace and used by an Icelandic supermarket as part of a Christmas advertising campaign has made headlines.

, voiced by Emma Thompson, was created to raise awareness of the deforestation caused by the production of palm oil products.

The 90-second film tells the story of a small orangutan named Rang-tan who climbs into a little girl’s room because his own habitat has been destroyed. And, although the character is fictional, the story is quite real – orangutans face the threat of destruction of their habitats in the rainforests every day.

“Rang-tan is a symbol of the 25 orangutans that we lose every day due to the destruction of the rainforest in the palm oil extraction process,” Greenpeace. “Rang-tan may be a fictional character, but this story is happening in reality right now.”

Palm oil-driven deforestation not only has a devastating impact on orangutan habitats, but also separates mothers and babies—all for the sake of an ingredient in something as mundane as a biscuit, shampoo, or chocolate bar.

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