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National Geographic Photo Ark Turns 15

National Geographic Explorer and founder of the National Geographic Photo Ark, Joel Sartore, reflects on five memorable moments he’s had while photographing species in the world’s zoos, aquariums and wildlife sanctuaries.

Today marks 15 years since National Geographic Explorer and founder of the National Geographic Photo Ark, Joel Sartore, walked into the Lincoln Children’s Zoo in his hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska to take photos. During the shoot, the staff brought out a naked mole rat, which would end up being the first animal of the Ark. Since that time, Joel has photographed more than 11,000 species in the world’s zoos, aquariums and wildlife sanctuaries. He took some time to reflect on his most memorable moments, and photos, over the last 15 years.

Photographing Nabire, a Northern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) at Safari Park Dvur Kralove. 

Photo by Joel Sartore / National Geographic Photo Ark.
Nabire was one of the last three northern white rhinos left on Earth. She died on Monday, July 27, 2015, just one week after Joel took her photo. The species is critically endangered, and heading towards extinction. Only two individuals from the species remain. Photo by Joel Sartore / National Geographic Photo Ark.

Photographing Toughie, the last known critically endangered Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog (Ecnomiohyla rabborum) at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. 

Photo by Joel Sartore / National Geographic Photo Ark
Joel photographed Toughie in 2013. This frog passed away in 2016, making the species extinct. Photo by Joel Sartore / National Geographic Photo Ark

The “Chimp Incident” at Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, Kansas. 

Joel says to “expect the unexpected — especially when dealing with chimps.” Joel learned just how quickly best-laid plans get tossed to the wind while on assignment. As soon as the chimps laid eyes on the studio background Joel had set up, they immediately tore it down. While he got video footage of the incident, he didn’t manage to get a single photo of the chimpanzees that day.

 

Photographing Mei Lun and Mei Huan, the twin giant panda cubs (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) at Zoo Atlanta. 

Joel really enjoyed being able to document these two and all that they represent – the success of intensive captive breeding efforts which have brought this species back from the brink of extinction. Photo by Joel Sartore / National Geographic Photo Ark.

Photographing an endangered Peruvian woolly monkey (Lagothrix cana) at Cetas-IBAMA, a wildlife rehab center in Manaus, Brazil. This site is administered by IBAMA, the government wildlife agency of Brazil. 

Photo by Joel Sartore / National Geographic Photo Ark.
The individual he photographed was a juvenile female. She had severe growth deformities due to poor nutrition as she was being reared as a pet by a citizen in Brazil. When Joel began taking photos of her she was very shy and reserved, but as their time together went on the two connected and Joel recalls that it was almost as if she started posing for him in later frames, really revealing her personality. Photo by Joel Sartore / National Geographic Photo Ark.

To learn more about the National Geographic Photo Ark, conservation and protecting species visit NatGeoPhotoArk.org.

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