22/11/2019

Luke Jerram's latest artwork revealed at the Zoo

Installation artist Luke Jerram has unveiled his latest work here at Bristol Zoo Gardens today – a brass bell that chimes to represent species lost to extinction.

The Extinction Bell has been launched by the world-renowned artist to raise awareness of the issue of biodiversity loss which is happening across the world every day.

Luke said: “Unlike past mass extinctions, caused by events like asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions, and natural climate shifts, the current crisis is almost entirely caused by us – humans.

“In fact, 99 per cent of currently-threatened species are at risk from human activities, primarily those driving habitat loss, introduction of exotic species, and global warming.

“The Extinction bell tolls 150-200 times each day, which is the rate of species extinctions estimated in a 2007 report by the United Nations. It’s very hard to put an exact figure on the current number of extinctions as the number of species in the wild is unknown to scientists. We think it’s time to change the tune.”

Luke Jerram's Extinction Bell at dusk

The Bristol-based artist said the aim of the bell was to give people an audible representation of how often species are being lost.

“All around the world, bells are used as a universal call to action and communicate a sense of emergency,” he said.

“Bells are also commonly used in religion, bringing communities together for services. When a bell tolls it rings slowly and repeatedly, often as a sign that someone has died. With all these cultural references it made sense to use a bell in the artwork as a way of marking the numbers of species we are losing each day.”

He added: “I was keen to work with Bristol Zoological Society as they recognise the value of both animal and plant species. It also allows me the opportunity to present the artwork to the public and get feedback about its impact.” 

As part of the launch, bells across Bristol are due to chime in support of the Extinction Bell this afternoon (Friday November 22).  The bell will remain at the heart of Bristol Zoo Gardens until after the New Year before it tours museums of natural history, botanic gardens and other zoos around the globe. 

Dr Grainne McCabe, Head of Field Conservation and Science at Bristol Zoological Society, said: “The Extinction Bell is a poignant reminder of the current extinction crisis.

“Around 25 per cent of studied animal and plant species are threatened, suggesting that around one million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken.”

Bristol Zoo Gardens is owned and run by Bristol Zoological Society which works to protect 18 target animal species in 10 countries around the world. The Society is also involved with more than 93 co-ordinated breeding programmes for threatened wildlife species.

Many of the species Bristol Zoological Society works to protect are Critically Endangered, facing very high threat of extinction in the near future. These include the little-known Desertas wolf spider from Madeira and the western lowland gorilla from Equatorial Guinea, whose numbers in the wild have declined by more than 60 per cent over the last 20 to 25 years.

In the UK, the Zoo is also spearheading a programme to breed and reintroduce the globally endangered white-clawed crayfish to waterways in south west England, where there has been more than a 70 per cent decline in this species since the 1970s. Threats to the species include habitat fragmentation, pollution and the introduction of the non-native invasive American signal crayfish.

The Extinction Bell is the latest in a series of projects and installations by Luke Jerram that have inspired people all over the world since 1997. They include the installation of ‘Play Me I’m Yours’ street pianos, ‘Park and Slide’ a giant water slide down Park Street in Bristol, ‘Withdrawn’, the stranded boats in Leigh Woods for Bristol Green Capital 2015, and more recently ‘Museum of the Moon’ and ‘Gaia’ giant models of the moon and the earth which have drawn crowds wherever they have been displayed.

Many of his artworks are in permanent collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Wellcome Collection in London. Luke Jerram also tours his art installations and last year he had 73 exhibitions in 21 different countries.

Find our more about Bristol Zoological Society’s conservation projects around the world.

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