Before they disappear

UK-based designers Ed and James Harrison are bringing out unique screen prints to raise awareness about critically endangered species across the world

Published - February 09, 2018 01:44 pm IST

Vaquita Porpoise, the smallest marine mammal in the world is about to disappear. Found in the Northern Gulf of California, World Wild Life puts their current population at just 30. Vaquita are caught and drowned in gill-nets in illegal fishing operations. And Sea Shephered Conservation Society, together with the UK-based designer duo — Ed and James Harrison — are trying to spread the word. Under the aegis of their conservation project, Under The Skin, Ed and James create a limited edition interactive screen prints of endangered species.

The duo have taken up the Vaquita porpoise as a subject for their screen prints. Besides these, there will also be prints of three more endangered marine species, which will be released throughout 2018.

The designers, in an email interview, tell us why they are pushing the cause of environment through their art. Edited excerpts

How many endangered animals have you been engaged with?

Under the Skin has currently produced 10 limited edition prints to date. Our first set of four animals were launched in 2015. For every animal we print, we partner with a specific charity focussed on the protection of the species that works first-hand in the field of conservation and 20% of the proceeds go towards dedicated charities. We also create information and printed content that come alongside each print — why each animal is endangered, how we create our prints and what the charities are doing to protect the species.

The prints we have produced so far (in chronological order) are: Polar Bear, African Elephant, Western Gorilla, Giant Panda, Yellow-Crested Cockatoo, Sun Bear, Bornean Orangutan, Forsten’s Tortoise, Sunda Pangolin and the Vaquita Porpoise.

Can you explain the process of making these prints?

We came up with the concept of printing a hidden UV layer of ink of the animals skeleton. So, when a UV torch is shone on the endangered animal, it reveals the bones and anatomy of the species. This represents all that is left when a species falls into the darkness of extinction. On the surface, our animal artwork is playful and minimal. The underlying concept is complex, which is fitting because extinction is a dark, heavy subject. We only produce 40 prints of each species, so once they are sold out we don’t print more. Once they are gone, they’re gone, much like the animals that are disappearing all around the world.

Are you looking at any other endangered species besides sun bear in the Indian sub-continent or Asia?

We have plans for the ongoing series to create another 12 endangered species prints in 2018 which include species such as the Amur leopard, hammerhead shark, Scottish wildcat and Sumatran rhino. Being aware of changes, impacts and threats happening around the world is vital to our project. Even though it’s difficult and sad at times, We want to use this project as a means to travel around the world to see first-hand what is happening, that way we can integrate it into our work and try and create a positive change. Unfortunately, we know we will never run out of animals to print. Over the past 50 years we have lost over half the land animals due to a growing number of threats, mainly caused by human impact. Many of the natural eco-systems and habitats where these animals live are being fragmented and degraded, leading to mass extinction at an alarming rate. Scientists are referring to this as ‘The Sixth Mass Extinction’ and they now believe we are losing species at between 1,000 and 10,000 times the background rate.

4)How do you approach research?

We started our project by screen printing four very iconic endangered and vulnerable animals to launch our project; the Polar Bear, African Elephant, Western Gorilla and the Giant Panda. We have come a long way since creating these four prints. We decided to collaborate on a series of six Under the Skin prints with a magazine called ‘Another Escape’. They travelled to Borneo to carry out first hand research and follow in the footsteps of the British naturalist and conservationist Alfred Russell Wallace. For this collaboration we decided to create six prints of species that Wallace studied during his time in Borneo. For example, the first print was the Bornean Orangutan that was vital to Wallace’s work on the theory of Transmutation - the evolution from ape to man. Wallace’s incredible research and writing subsequently helped Charles Darwin solidify his theory of Evolution that he was working on around the same time. This has definitely changed the way we all think today.

We’re starting to travel to a few places with the project but at the moment we’re mainly doing research through the internet, reading books and speaking with the collaborators, charities and organisations who are working tirelessly to protect specific species from going extinct. By witnessing ourselves what’s happening and working with professionals in the field of conservation, we can use this first hand research.

Closer home

What do you think of the wildlife and marine life in India? Our country is also struggling with serious loss to its ecology.

India has seen some big changes over the past few decades, particularly due to mass industrialisation and human population growth. This has led to the decline of many species and sadly we have already seen the extinction of some incredible species that will never return, like the Indian cheetah, also known as Asiatic cheetah and the pink-headed duck. Through a growing number of threats and changing eco-systems such as forests, oceans, grasslands, mountains and deserts, the animals and natural habitats need to be saved now more than ever before.


India has been high on our list of places to visit — both for the incredible wildlife and the diversity of habitats. And of course, this brings us to the iconic mountain animals such as the critically endangered snow leopard, which we will be creating the next year.

(Prints can be ordered online from

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