By Crystal Chung @crystalkchung

ENCHANTING photography of zoo animals captures the emotions and relationships of lions, orangutans and tigers

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Melbourne Zoo is one of 150 zoological institutions worldwide participating in a survival breeding program for Western Lowland Gorillas

Shot over an 18-month period, the following series of breathtaking images taken by Art Xanthopoulos, show the beautiful connection between animals as well as the human-like nature of some of the most endangered animals in the world.

Art, 44, said: “The images are designed to show the connection and bond between offspring and adults directly and indirectly within their community and across all the species photographed.”

Sumatran orangutans in the wild are under great threat as they are classed as critically endangered, with numbers in the wild rapidly falling

Taken at Melbourne Zoo, Australia, the series shows apes cradling their young, orangutans kissing and lions embracing. The project was created by photographer Art to raise awareness of the importance and dangers of the animals becoming endangered.

The Asian Elephant was once widespread throughout Asia however with loss of habitat and poaching this has forced remaining populations into heavily forested, inaccessible regions in south and South-East Asia

The Melbourne based photographer said: “As with my previous work, the images are also designed to showcase the ‘humanism’ of the great apes and in doing so help bring to the fore the plight these animals face in the wild. Some species like the Sumatran orangutan and western lowland gorilla remain on the critically endangered list.

Art's aim for this series was to show the beautiful connection between animals as well as the humanistic traits

“Melbourne zoo participates in a worldwide captive breeding program designed to curb the threat of extinction for these animals and bring to light the environmental threats.”

It is not known how many lions remain in the wild in Africa: recent estimates have ranged from around 16,500 to 30,000 animals remaining

She added: “Another reason for why I photograph these animals is to help send a message to my audience that we, as consumers, have a direct effect on the habitats of these animals, like the Sumatran orangutan, through our choice of food products with sustainable palm oil as opposed to unsustainable palm oil. Palm oil plantations in Sumatra often result in the destruction of the orangutans and tigers natural habitat with a direct result being these animals becoming endangered.”

Art snaps an incredible image of a Sumatran tiger with the sun rays coming in through the cage

Art’s beautifully detailed photos feature the Sumatran tiger, which is classed as ‘critically endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, with numbers in the wild falling.

Three elephants have been born since Melbourne Zoo established the Cooperative Conservation Breeding Program

Threats include habitat loss as palm oil plantations are extended through their natural range, hunting for traditional medicine and loss of prey.

Orangutans are largely solitary and spend much of their time foraging for fruit high up in the canopy of the rainforest

Having visited Melbourne Zoo many times over the years, Art decided to photograph them to show viewers that they are more than just zoo animals.

She said: “When people view the images, my hope is that they will see these animals as more than just animals in a zoo and take the time to understand the risks they face due to human encroachment on their habitats.

Gorillas are fascinating creatures which share many of the same features as us
The Sumatran tiger is classed as ‘critically endangered’

“In so doing I hope that they will then demand more from food companies and the government towards accurate food labelling. Only then can we, as consumers, understand that our choices impact on the survival of these species.”