The Photo Ark Vanishing

Joel Sartore / National Geographic / 400 pages

Joel Sartore is a gifted wildlife photographer. Fifteen years ago, events in his personal life meant he could no longer travel internationally to photograph wildlife in their natural habitat. So he turned his lens to what in many cases are the last animals of a species held in captivity in various zoos. 

Since then, he has created a stunning photographic record of the extinction crisis, dubbed the Photo Ark, images from which he shares daily, accompanied by conservation messages, with his 1.4 million Instagram followers. These photos have now been compiled into a coffee table photography book called The Photo Ark Vanishing: The World’s Most Vulnerable Animals. The book is divided into four chapters: Ghosts (extinct, or extinct in the wild), Disappearing (critically endangered), Fading (endangered), and Dimming (vulunerable). 

Every image in the book is of an animal against a white or black background, drawing into stark relief the reality that these animals are so far from their natural habitat. Many, though not all, will wink out in captivity. The short text accompanying each image identifies the causes of the species’ decline—threats ranging from climate change and habitat destruction to the pet and folk medicine trades—and often notes how many individuals remain. Sartore also includes commentary on the extent of the extinction crisis, hails species conservation efforts around the world, and includes an urgent call to action to prevent more loss. 

The book is gorgeous and tragic, a far more visceral experience than Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine’s Last Chance to See, published in 1990, which chronicled their travels to view some of the last wild members of several species—some of which are now featured in Sartore’s book. 

It is important to note that while a select few zoos and captive breeding facilities play key roles in preventing extinction and recovering species, most serve no conservation benefit. In-situ conservation is preferable and most zoos provide woefully inadequate facilities and care.

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