Photo Ark

There is something special about wildlife photography and for many reasons it has always been my favorite genre of photography. Capturing the essence of wildlife on film is both magical and powerful, the images can help convey a message as well as connect people to wildlife by inspiring awe, action, and even empathy. It’s these elements that help make wildlife photography and in particular conservation photography an important tool for teaching people about wildlife conservation. In a world where many species are now rare, endangered, or in many cases headed for extinction, each photograph taken has become a portrait or permanent record, in essence a type of living digital fossil that tells a story while there is still time to save the species.

Joel Sartore Wildlife photographer, National Geographic Photographer and National Geographic Photo Ark founder has taken the task of documenting the worlds most rare and or endangered species to the ultimate level by creating thousands of portraits of animals that reside in human care in zoos and sanctuaries around the world. This multi-year project hopes to continue to document, raise awareness and find solutions to some of the most pressing issues affecting wildlife and their habitats. Photo Ark aims to do this by inspiring “action through education” and by helping to save wildlife by “supporting on-the-ground conservation efforts”. Joel’s work with the Photo Ark began over a decade ago and to date he has photographed over 7,000 species. Once the Photo Ark is complete he will have created portraits of an estimated 12,000 species, but importantly the project will serve as a  “record of each animal’s existence and a powerful testament to the importance of saving them.”

The photos are instantly recognizable as each animal from the smallest to the largest and most charismatic are represented equally with nothing more than a simple black or white backdrop. With no distractions the viewer must focus on the intended subject as well as the message that lies behind the eyes staring back.

Photo Ark, #SaveTogether, National Geographic Photo Ark, Joel Sartore, Wildlife Conservation, Wildlife Photography, ROMSpeaks, Wildcats, Be their Voice

© Photo by GRAHM S. JONES, COLUMBUS ZOO AND AQUARIUM
‘After a photo shoot at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, a clouded leopard cub climbs on Sartore’s head. The leopards, which live in Asian tropical forests, are illegally hunted for their spotted pelts.’  Image © Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark natgeophotoark.org

Being a fan of Joel’s work, one of my personal favorites is the portrait of Uno an endangered Florida Panther who was blinded by a gunshot wound, I was excited to have the chance to hear him speak recently at the Royal Ontario Museum as the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Keynote. Joel has a reputation for being a phenomenal speaker and he did not disappoint, he was engaging, entertaining, passionate and extremely inspirational.

His talk included stories full of humor and hope while others were more serious, the conservation stories of species that we still may have time to save and others that it is already too late for. Some of his portraits would be the last the world would see of these animals and that, a profound message, should resonate deeply on an emotional and spiritual level with anyone concerned for the state of biodiversity on our planet.

Photo Ark, #SaveTogether, National Geographic Photo Ark, Joel Sartore, Wildlife Conservation, Wildlife Photography, ROMSpeaks, Wildcats, Be their Voice

© Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark
‘An endangered Malayan tiger, Panthera tigris jacksoni, at Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo.’             Image National Geographic Photo Ark natgeophotoark.org

His photography for The National Geographic Photo Ark involves captive animals so there is a strong affiliation with zoos and, as the topic of zoos has become extremely controversial I did appreciate Joel acknowledging this in his talk, however I personally did not agree with the statement that zoos are necessarily better at providing for wildlife than proper wildlife sanctuaries. This is one point I really wished he had somewhat expanded on considering that there has been such a strong backlash against zoos with stories of healthy animals being killed or evidence that many have inadequate and inhumane conditions in which their animals are kept. Perhaps zoos in some cases provide a purpose in conservation of some species for future re-introductions, but ultimately preserving habitat and ways of keeping species alive in that habitat currently should be an equally important message or at least included in the discussion.

I was however pleasantly surprised to hear Joel comment on the impact of livestock when talking about some of the biggest threats to wildlife conservation, perhaps one the least talked about issues, after human population. This was the slide he used to demonstrate his point, which is just as powerful as any of the animal portraits. It is a reminder that everything is connected and clearly our choices have a lot of power so talking about our eating habits on top of the other issues, must be part of the discussion as it has a direct connection to the loss of wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Photo Ark, #SaveTogether, National Geographic Photo Ark, Joel Sartore, Wildlife Conservation, Wildlife Photography, ROMSpeaks, Wildcats, Be their Voice

Photo taken at the ROM Wildlife Photographer of the Year Keynote: Photo Ark – Image © Photo Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark

A few things I have always strongly believed in were mentioned as well, one is that he suggests people would also benefit by doing their own research on the issues. The other is that change really comes from within and he encourages everyone, adults and young people, to do something – to find something they want to do to help and do it.

The National Geographic Photo Ark is meant to inspire and to get people to think more critically which is important if humanity wishes to save wildlife, our planet and ultimately ourselves. It shows us that the beautiful art of photography can help save wildlife but it must also be accompanied by a shift in how we view our role in their survival.

Photo Ark, #SaveTogether, National Geographic Photo Ark, Joel Sartore, Wildlife Conservation, Wildlife Photography, ROMSpeaks, Wildcats, Be their Voice

© Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark
‘A federally endangered Florida panther, Puma concolor coryi, at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.’    Image National Geographic Photo Ark natgeophotoark.org

With the thousands of rare and endangered animals photographed you may wonder what Joel could possibly have to look forward to when he has already seen so much? No need to worry he has not lost his enthusiasm and remarked at the end of his talk that he is always excited about the “next animal to photograph”.

To find out more about Joel and The National Geographic Photo Ark, how to help or get involved visit NatGeoPhotoArk.org

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4 thoughts on “Photo Ark

  1. Beautiful photos and a fascinating project. Thank you for sharing. I too would take issue with Joel on the role of zoos. The priority must be protecting species in their own habitats – I know some of the better zoos do this too. With others one suspects “greenwashing”. In any case it will be a very sad day when the only way we know a wild creature has ever existed will be seeing the last remaining ones in captivity. As for livestock – that cannot be overemphasised. Without doubt THE major cause of loss of habitat worldwide. Not to mention farmers killing wild predators which they see as pests. There are so many reasons to stop consuming meat and dairy, but this is a huge one.

  2. I love his work, too. I totally agree re: negative impact of livestock and farming/ranching on threatened wild species. The role of zoos in conservation is a tough one. The more zoos I’ve seen over the years, the less comfortable I am with them. Too much suffering among the individual captive animals.

    • He really is a great speaker, I actually tried to get an interview with him but was told his schedule was full. I had planned to ask him about zoos/captive animals as I would like to have heard more of what he thought. I understand in an hour you can really get into but as I said I can’t fully agree with all that he said on that topic myself. Glad he did mention livestock though because that is truly the elephant in the room.

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