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.
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 Ark, Photo Ark: Celebrating Our World in Poetry and Pictures, Nebraska: 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
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.
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
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.
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
WGBH Educational Foundation
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
|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
|Let's Be Reasonable cover image|
Used by permission of the University of Nebraska Press.
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.
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.
The Nat Geo WILD premier of PHOTO ARK, Saving 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.
With a commitment to align with Nature, Ei defined The Principles of Nature with three broad categories:
- Dynamic Balance & Nutrition Systems
- Necessity of Cover & Ability to Roam