Changing Planet

Happy Anniversary, Photo Ark! 10 Years, 6,300 Animals Photographed





Take that as a rock-musician-style compliment, a statement of the obvious, or an affront to whatever you think separates us as humans (language? mind? soul? denim?), but it’s the basic category of life on Earth that we all fall into. And we share that category with a practically limitless number of other species.

Every time someone looks closely at the animal life in a particular area, new species are discovered. Frogs are really good at popping up this way. And insects seem to reveal new models more often than smartphone manufacturers. The reason species are so numerous is that for billions of years, they have been specializing and fitting into new roles and new niches in every nook and cranny on the planet.

The downside of all this localized diversity is that it means clearing a small section of forest can completely wipe out dozens or even hundreds of species that lived only right there.

Fortunately, for all the destructive impact our own species has on all the others, we also have a tendency to care for and protect them. As a result, there are now members of some 12,000 animal species being cared for daily by members of Homo sapiens.

Man on a Mission

Photographing every one of these 12,000 species is Joel Sartore’s dream, and 2016 marks a full decade that he’s been living that dream. Happy Anniversary, Photo Ark.

Ten years ago, he began his Photo Ark project as a way of recording each of these animals with the same care and detail, no matter their size, familiarity, or traditional “star quality.” To Joel, every one of them is a star, and every one of them is an individual with a specific life story.

“I get most excited when I do little critters like this,” he said in the April 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine, referring to the naked mole rat on the table before him, “because nobody’s ever going to give them the time of day.”

He’s changing that attitude through the Photo Ark. It is an ambitious project committed to inspiring people not just to care, but also to help protect these animals for future generations. To help broaden your own perspective on which animals are worth examining more closely, take a good look at the charts above and below, and let the wide variety of species of all kinds sink in.


In the ten years since the project’s launch, Joel has photographed more than 6,300 species, putting him more than halfway to his goal. He has traveled to some 35 countries and had his photos projected onto the Empire State Building and St. Peter’s Basilica. The project has been featured in magazines, newspapers, and television programs around the world.

There have also been successes for the animals themselves. Twenty-two species, including the ploughshare tortoise, northern gray wolf, and golden-headed langur have shown some recovery in the wild.

On the darker side though, and emphasizing the timeliness of the project, 13 of the species recorded in the Photo Ark are no longer found in the wild at all. Two, the Rabb’s frog and Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit, are now extinct.


For a species without much natural weaponry, Homo sapiens has taken a major toll on other species around the world. We have also taken major strides to curtail those negative effects, and to start having a more beneficial impact on our fellow animal species.

Through ten years of traveling and dealing with the struggles of photographing wild animals in closed spaces, Joel Sartore has brought us all closer to the wild animals we know and many most of us had never seen before. Celebrate the first decade of this remarkable accomplishment and explore the Photo Ark for yourself.

Follow Joel Sartore and Photo Ark on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and add your voice using #SaveTogether.

[Updated 2/10/2017]

Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. He is currently beginning a new role as communications director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history.

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