With Extinction on the Rise, Joel Sartore works to fill his Photo Ark

Photo of a rhinoceros. Photo by jean wimmerlin on Unsplash
Photo by jean wimmerlin on Unsplash

Recently, I’ve written a few times about endangered species. In August, I wrote about how the Trump administration weakened the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In the last couple of weeks, 17 states have filed suit over the changes to the ESA. A recent United Nations report indicated that up to a million species may be threatened with extinction. One million!

Despite the depressing subject matter, I wanted to share something that truly inspired me.

National Geographic October 2019 cover of a dying rhinoceros
Cover of National Geographic October 2019, available for purchase at bookstores and online.

We’re Losing Species at an Alarming Rate

I work at a library and last week the cover of National Geographic caught my eye as I was walking by the magazine display. The galvanizing image is of a keeper at a conservancy in Kenya saying goodbye to the last male northern white rhinoceros. Yes, you read that correctly – the last male. There are two females left. In the whole world.

How did it come to this? Mostly from human activity such as poaching, pollution, habitat destruction for land and logging, pesticides, and climate change. The rhinoceros is a keystone species with a 50 million-year-old lineage, and in just the last 100 years we have brought it to near extinction. The author of the article wrote that “Watching a creature die—one who is the last of its kind—is something I hope never to experience again. It felt like watching our own demise.”

Photo of a newborn sea turtle. Photo by Alfonso Navarro on Unsplash
Photo by Alfonso Navarro on Unsplash

“When we see ourselves as part of nature, we understand that saving nature is really about saving ourselves.” -Ami Vitale, National Geographic

Joel Sartore & The Photo Ark

The same issue of National Geographic featured an article about Joel Sartore, a photographer who has worked for the magazine for 25 years. The Photo Ark is an effort to photo-document every living species, and Sartore has photographed nearly 10,000 species. His ultimate goal is “to get the public to care about the extinction crisis while there’s still time.” His work is beautiful and stunning and astonishing.

The editor of National Geographic asked Sartore, “What do you want people to know about the state of life on Earth?” He responded, “A recent intergovernmental report says that as many as one million species are already on their way to extinction. It’s folly to think that we can throw away so much life and not have it affect humanity in a profound and negative way.

Photo of elephants. Photo by Florian van Duyn on Unsplash
Photo by Florian van Duyn on Unsplash

“The biggest question of our time is: Will we wake up and act, or will we stare into our smartphones all the way down to disaster? My goal is to get the public to care about the extinction crisis while there’s still time to save the planet and everything that lives here.” -Joel Sartore, interview with National Geographic

Check out his work

Sartore did a TEDx Talk in 2013 where he talked about photographing the first few thousand animals for the Photo Ark. The video is almost 20 minutes long but I promise it’s worth your time, especially the second half.

Sartore and the Photo Ark also have several books, including a children’s book, that feature his photographs. They include animals that have gone extinct in the few years since he photographed them. I’ve featured these books on my Books page under the Endangered Animals section.

There’s also a three-episode documentarian PBS series entitled Rare: Creatures of the Photo Ark about this project. It is available on Amazon Prime but you can also access it for free through your local public library if they offer Hoopla. I’ve watched the first episode with my young son and we learned from it and enjoyed it. Sartore is truly passionate.

What can you do?

There are so many things you can do! Follow legislation related to endangered species, habitat destruction, hunting and poaching, and pollution. Pay attention to what’s going on locally too. Donate money to any of the organizations that protect wildlife and the environment. Keep learning from leaders like Joel Sartore and Jeff Corwin (and so many others that I haven’t mentioned). Share their information, shows, and books. Educate your friends and your children on the dangers of extinction – spread the word!

Thanks for reading, and please subscribe!

A note about the images used in this post: In order to not violate copyright, I did not use any images belonging to Joel Sartore. Please visit his website or check out his books and documentary series to view his stunning photography.

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