When Joel Sartore started photographing animals at his local zoo nearly 10 years ago, it was out of necessity.
The long-time National Geographic photographer was grounded while helping his wife after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. Suddenly he wasn’t traveling to far-flung corners of the Earth for shoots. Rather, he was at home with his family with time to think about the impact he had made with his work. It wasn’t enough, he determined, so he started snapping portraits of zoo animals, ones that would make people care about the creature’s wellbeing. He’s since visited zoos all over the world (he started traveling again in 2007). He’s now about halfway to his goal of photographing all 12,000 captive species.
Driven by the devastating theory that half of the Earth’s species could be extinct by 2100, it’s become Sartore’s passion to raise awareness, spark action, and show these animals’ intelligence. In a few cases, the animals he’s photographed are now extinct, most famously the last living Rabbs’ fringed-limbed tree frog and the last living Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit.
He’s turned 600 of his stunning images into a book by the same name as his project, The Photo Ark, which is out now. “It’s supposed to just overwhelm people with what life looks like on Earth,” Sartore told CBS in a 2015 interview about the project.
From sea anemones to orangutans, check out some of the amazing creatures Sartore features in the new book, and the stories behind the portraits, in his own words.
A Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) with her adoptive mother, Bornean/Sumatran hybrid (Pongo pygmaeus x abelii) Mexican Grey Wolf (Canis Lupus Baileyi) This subspecies of the common wolf recently faced extinction, with only a small wild population remaining in Mexico. Now thanks to breeding, and reintroduction efforts, its numbers are increasing in the United States as well. California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) Oncilla (Leopardus Tigrinus Pardinoides) Himalayan wolves (Canis himalayensis) Red pandas (Ailurus fulgens fulgens)
© All photos by Joel Sartore/National Geographic The Photo Ark. For more information on the project visit natgeophotoark.org