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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Photo Ark: a gift from the heart

On May 15, 2020 a press release announced the National Geographic (Nat Geo) Photo Ark added the 10,000th image to the impressive collection of species portraits from animals in human care around the globe. Each portrait is captured on a white or black background and published images are the same dimension; thus, a tiny mouse is literally the same size as an elephant in the Photo Ark.

In honor of the 10,000-image milestone, Nat Geo WILD premiers a two-part special, PHOTO ARK, Saving Species Through the Power of Photography, on October 17 and 24 at 10/9c. Over the course of the two-hour special viewers will travel to the Amazon rainforest, Colorado Rockies, and Islands of Indonesia for Photo Ark photo shoots.

As of this article publishing, the Photo Ark boasts 10,819 formal portraits. In addition to the portrait gallery, a comprehensive 35,879-photo Photo Ark Gallery, including in-the-field images, is available for viewing. An excellent search function accompanies the gallery.

The Photo Ark
Renowned Nat Geo photographer Joel Sartore created the Photo Ark as a vehicle to showcase the Earth's tremendous biodiversity within the Animal Kingdom along with the mass extinction in process. 

The engaging portraits are designed to personalize the species, showcase their intelligence, and ignite a deep caring within the viewer. Additionally, Photo Ark portraits often utilized by non-profits and institutions when lobbying governments and other entities to instill measures that prevent a species extinction.

An award-winning photographer, Joel is a Nat Geo fellow, speaker, and educator as well as the 2018 Nat Geo Explorer of the Year. To date, 12+ Nat Geo covers and 35+ stories are credited to Joel. 

Columbus, OH - After a photo shoot at the Columbus
Zoo in Ohio, a clouded leopard cub climbs on Joel's head. The 
leopards, which live in tropical Asian forests, are illegally
hunted for their pelts. (Joel Sartore / Nat Geo Photo Ark)
Photo by Joel Sartore / Nat Geo Photo Ark
Outside of his Nat Geo work, Joel has contributed to Audubon magazine, TIME, Life, Sports Illustrated, and CBS Sunday Morning. Additionally, Joel's work was featured on 60 Minutes, NBC Nightly News, PBS Newshour, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, NBC’s Today, and many more prominent broadcasts. 

Joel's books include Photo Ark: A World Worth Saving, RARE: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species, The Photo Ark: One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals, The Photo Ark: Vanishing, Birds of the Photo ArkPhoto Ark: Celebrating Our World in Poetry and PicturesNebraska: Under a Big Red Sky, and Let's Be Reasonable

Edging towards extinction
According to the Center for Biological Diversity: Scientists predict that more than 1 million species (in all Earth Kingdoms) are on track for extinction in the coming decades.

In the Regeneration in ACTION article, Nature Prevails, a section documents how current conditions indicate that the Earth's Holocene extinction, or sixth mass extinction, is well underway.

The National Museum of Natural History Extinction Over Time article states:

Recent studies estimate about eight million species on Earth, of which at least 15,000 are threatened with extinction. ... Scientists agree that today’s extinction rate is hundreds, or even thousands, of times higher than the natural baseline rate. Judging from the fossil record, the baseline extinction rate is about one species per every one million species per year.

 In Joel's words, "It’s folly to think that we can destroy one species and ecosystem after another and not affect humanity. When we save species, we're actually saving ourselves."

According to Joel, "We won't save what we do not love. We will not fall in love if we do not connect." To establish the love connection, Photo Ark portraits focus on the eyes where the viewer may gaze deeply into the Being's soul and fall intrinsically in love.

In the beginning
In 2005 Joel returned from a lengthy and demanding assignment in Alaska to tragic news: his beloved wife Kathy was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Immediately, Joel was grounded in his hometown Lincoln, Nebraska to care for Kathy during her chemotherapy treatment and tend to their three children. It was a life-changing time for Joel.

A naked mole rat, Heterocephalus glaber, at the
Lincoln Children’s Zoo. The naked mole rat is the first
image in the Nat Geo Photo Ark.
© Photo by Joel Sartore/Nat Geo Photo Ark
When Kathy was feeling well enough to be alone for a few hours, Joel visited the Lincoln Children's Zoo, a mile plus from their home, where he gained permission to photograph their captive animals. According to the website, the Lincoln Children's Zoo is home to over 400 animals with more than 40 endangered animals including the Sumatran tiger, Humboldt penguin, snow leopard & Matchie's tree kangaroo.

Thus, the Photo Ark was born! The naked mole rat captured on a black background holds the status of the Photo Ark's first portrait. Blind, the naked mole rat is one of the few animals that does not get cancer and may hold secrets to cancer prevention and cures.

Funded primarily by Nat Geo grants along with other support, the Photo Ark evolved into a profound virtual educational exhibit that is available for physical installation.

Though he is supported on photo shoots by a stellar team including his children Ellen and Cole, Joel is the sole photographer to the now nearly 11,000 Photo Ark portraits.

Final portraits
The Photo Ark contains at least three portraits that capture the final whispers of life as the species segues into extinction. Though incredibly sad, the portraits make a profound impact on the necessity for immediate action to curtail the mass extinction in process.

Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit, the smallest North American rabbit - according to the fossil evidence the rabbit became genetically isolated at least 10,000 years ago within a single Columbia Basin area of Washington state. Bryn's, the last surviving pure-bred Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit, 2008 Photo Ark portrait was taken approximately six months prior to her death at the Oregon Zoo.

The last known Rabbs’ fringe limbed tree frog, Ecnomiohyla rabborum,
at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, photographed in 2013.
© Photo by Joel Sartore/Nat Geo Photo Ark
Rabb's fringe-limb treefrog (Ecnomiohyla rabborum) - in 2005 a team of frog scientists from the Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG) and Zoo Atlanta embarked on a rescue mission to collect frogs as the deadly chytrid fungus closed in on central Panama. Toughie, the final specimen of his species, lived for 12 years at the ABG biosecure FrogPOD. During his photo shoot, Toughie jumped onto Joel's camera. On September 30, 2016 Toughie died and his species was officially extinct.

Northern white rhinoceros, the third largest African animal (after the elephant and hippo) - once an abundant grazing animal across Central Africa, the northern white rhinoceros was essentially hunted to extinction simply for its horn. A week after the Photo Ark portrait was captured, the northern white rhinoceros at the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic died; today there are two remaining northern white rhinoceros, a mother | daughter duo, at the Peta Conservancy in Nanyuki, Kenya. HOPE: sperm is saved from the last male and the younger rhino is within child-bearing years.

Recovering species
At least two endangered species are in solid recovery thanks to publicity inspired by their respective Photo Ark portraits.

Florida grasshopper sparrow - in spring 2012 Joel accompanied writer Ted Williams and biologist Paul Miller to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park to document the sparrows' recent catastrophic population decline in the remnant prairies of central Florida. The sparrow population was down to several hundred birds in their native territory.

Washington DC - Joel stands surrounded by his images
from the Photo Ark. (WGBH Educational
Foundation/Chun-Wei Yi)
WGBH Educational Foundation

A year later Audubon Magazine ran one of Joel's images on the cover with the words, End of the line? along with Ted's feature article, The Most Endangered Bird in the Continental U.S., The fight to save the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow inspires all who love wildlife. The pursuing social media campaigns along with the Audubon Magazine feature triggered interest in saving the sparrow. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dedicated $1.29 million to restoring the Florida grasshopper sparrow species. 

In May 2020 the Washington Post reported that captive Florida grasshopper sparrows are rearing chicks in captivity. Intentions are to restore the native population via the captive-bred sparrows.

Salt Creek tiger beetle - according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the Salt Creek tiger beetle received endangered species status on October 6, 2005; population decreases are the result of significant and consistent habitat loss since Nebraska's human development began in the 1800's. The tiger beetle is considered an indicator species of the overall ecosystem health.

On April 6, 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 1,933 acres of critical habitat for the Salt Creek tiger beetle. The Xerces Society used Photo Ark images in their quest to secure critical habitat for the tiger beetle as well as its ecosystem cohabitants.

Additionally, the following four Photo Ark North American species recovered from endangered to reasonably stable status:

  • Black-footed ferret
  • California condor
  • Mexican grey wolf
  • Whooping crane
RARE: Creatures of the Photo Ark
In 2017 Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) aired an excellent three-episode series RARE: Creatures of the Photo Ark featuring the great lengths required by Joel, as well as his family, to build the Photo Ark portrait portfolio. Though no longer available for view on PBS, the series is available for purchase on Amazon Prime Video.

A güiña, Leopardus guigna, at Fauna Andina in Chile. 
The güiña is the 10,000th species in the Nat Geo Photo Ark.
© Photo by Joel Sartore/Nat Geo Photo Ark

The third episode reveals how the Photo Ark is truly a Sartore family affair. In his quest to capture the 5,000th Photo Ark portrait, Joel "kidnapped" the family's European vacation. Joel's eldest son Cole was a superb lighting assistant during the shoots. According to Joel, Cole "works for food."

With a healthy sense of humor, the series portrays the incredible commitment by Joel and his family to the Photo Ark. In addition to captive-animal images, there are ample species found in the wild within Photo Ark portraits. For example, the colorful dung beetles Joel dug out of a large mound of manure made beautiful portraits.

According to Joel in each episode's introduction, one third of all species face extinction and one half of everything photographed will be extinct by 2100. 

Episode three chronicles the capture of the 5,000th Photo Ark portrait, the Persian leopard, in Budapest. It took ten years to capture the first 5,000 Photo Ark portraits. With rhythm and momentum in place, the next 5,000 animals were photographed in five years.

A Master Communicator
A story teller and educator at heart, Joel is a master communicator in written, oral, and visual vernaculars. Whether narrating a documentary, speaking at a prominent event, or hosting school children at a Photo Ark exhibit, Joel speaks in the voice the audience may hear and comprehend.

Let's Be Reasonable cover image
Used by permission of the University of Nebraska Press.

The 2011 Let's Be Reasonable book, a collage of essays written for CBS Sunday morning, pairs Joel’s award-winning photography with commentary on a variety of subjects. Joel's wit adds humor to lighten otherwise intense subjects, such as cancer, holiday trash or oil-soaked birds on the Gulf Coast. Within the essays are clear protocol for living a more authentic life.

As an educator, Joel is generous and unapparelled. Elemental Impact (Ei) Founder Holly Elmore experienced Joel's effective, down-to-earth style in the Fundamental of Photography series in partnership with The Great Courses and Nat Geo. Now a seasoned photojournalist, Holly credits her solid photography-skills foundation to Joel's tutelage. Holly was beyond honored to interview Joel for this article.

Eagle Scout
The About page on Joel's personal site includes the following self-description:

Joel Sartore is an award-winning photographer, speaker, author, conservationist, and the 2018 National Geographic Explorer of the Year. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic Magazine, and an Eagle Scout.

Achieving Eagle Scout status is a high honor that requires incredible discipline and tenacity of spirit during formative years. Leadership skills and high moral standards attuned while earning the Boy Scouts of America's highest rank benefit Eagle Scouts throughout their life. The public holds Eagle Scout status in high esteem, even if the actual designation is not well understood.

Eagle Scout Pledge

I reaffirm my allegiance To the three promises of the Scout Oath. I thoughtfully recognize And take upon myself The obligations and responsibilities Of an Eagle Scout. On my honor I will do my best To make my training and example, My rank and my influence Count strongly for better Scouting And for better citizenship In my troop, In my community, And in my contacts with other people. To this I pledge my sacred honor.

As every Eagle Scout takes the above pledge, there is a common bond filled with respect and trust between ALL Eagle Scouts. By including the status in his bio-page description, Joel confirms achieving the coveted Eagle Scout status is a lifetime milestone and achievement.

Nature Prevails
The Nat Geo WILD premier of PHOTO ARKSaving Species Through the Power of Photography, on October 17 and 24 at 10/9c, is impeccably timed with Ei's Nature Prevails platform launch. The existing Soil Health | Regenerative Agriculture and Water Use | Toxicity platforms complement and augment Nature Prevails.

The feet of photographer Joel Sartore were covered in mosquitoes
 within five minutes of removing his boots. Small insects may
be a nuisance, but are critical in anchoring the bottom of the
food chain during the short summer season on the North Slope
Photo by Joel Sartore. 

With a commitment to align with Nature, Ei defined The Principles of Nature with three broad categories:

  • Diversity
  • Dynamic Balance & Nutrition Systems
  • Necessity of Cover & Ability to Roam
The Principles of Nature are inherent within a species ability to survive and thrive on the planet. When one or more of the principles is absent or compromised, a species begins the spiral to extinction. In future articles, the principles will be further defined and explored.

The Future
The Photo Ark is a masterful pictorial collection of the Earth's Animal Kingdom as humanity enters the 21st millennium. Will the Photo Ark simply serve as an historic relic for future civilizations of "the way it was" on the Earth? Or will humanity fall in love with the Animal Kingdom and take the necessary action to reverse the current Holocene extinction in process?

Due to Joel Sartore's tireless dedication and ability to capture an animal's heart essence, the Photo Ark has the propensity to shift humanity's current destructive path. As Joel says "We won't save what we do not love. We will not fall if in love if we do not connect." The Photo Ark is a perfect vehicle for humans to fall in love with the Animal Kingdom - Thank you, Joel, for the profound gift from your beautiful heart!

About Elemental Impact:
Elemental Impact (Ei) is a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2010 as the home to the Zero Waste Zones, the forerunner in the nation for the commercial collection of food waste for compost. In June 2017, Ei announced the Era of Recycling Refinement was Mission Accomplished and entered the Era of Regeneration. Current focus areas include Nature Prevails, Soil Health | Regenerative Agriculture, and Water Use | Toxicity.

To work with industry leaders to create best regenerative operating practices where the entire value-chain benefits, including corporate bottom lines, communities, and the environment. Through education and collaboration, establish best practices as standard practices.

Ei’s tagline – Regeneration in ACTION – is the foundation for Ei endeavors.

The following mantra is at the core of Ei work:

Ei is a creator, an incubator.
Ei determines what could be done that is not being done and gets it done.
Ei brings the possible out of impossible.
Ei identifies pioneers and creates heroes.

For additional information, contact Holly Elmore at 404-261-4690 |

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