National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore began photographing North America’s endangered animal and plant species as a personal project. It grew into a decades-long endeavor. His new book, RARE: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species (National Geographic Focal Point, hardcover, $24), which was released today, gathers 80 of his photographs with text profiles that introduce readers to each species and detail the reasons for their endangerment. Sartore also includes personal anecdotes about the animals and how he made many of the photographs. Sartore’s book visually celebrates the biodiversity of the American continent and gives readers a sense of the forces—man-made and otherwise—influencing the survival of these species. The book also includes several species that coming back from the precipice of extinction. Below are a selection of images from Sartore’s book, along with his anecdotes.
St. Andrew Beach Mouse, Peromyscus polionotus peninsular; population ≤ 6,000; Panama City, Florida. Sartore: “Beach mice are anthropomorphic—cute as can be and easy to love—unless you are a developer who is inconvenienced by preserving their habitat. But photographing them is almost as tricky as saving them. The mice never stop moving, and so quickly that I couldn’t follow them with my macro lens, let alone get a focus. My flash even had a hard time stopping them. Only when this mouse paused to groom did I get a moment to take a picture.”
Ocelot, Leopardus paradalis. Population 195, San Diego Zoo, San Diego, California. Sartore: “The key in photographing anything is having time and good access. In this case, we had access to the only ocelot I know of that is trained to walk on a leash, at the San Diego Zoo. Time was the real issue, though. Many of these animals will stand still only for food. The moment they get full, the shoot is over. We got eight minutes”
Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit, Brachylagus idahoensis; population 0; Oregon Zoo, Portland, Oregon. Sartore: “Bryn the pygmy rabbit died in 2008, marking the end of her genetic line. This subpopulation lost its sagebrush habitat as the land was developed for agriculture. Key features of Bryn’s genetic material survive in hybrid pygmy rabbits; a breeding and reintroduction program holds out hope for her kind.”
Dehli Sands Flower-Loving Fly, Rhaphiomidas terminatus abdominalis; population less than 1,000; Colton, California. Sartore: “It took four and a half months to take this picture. That was the wait time for a special handling permit that was needed through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. On the chosen day, with several federal agents there to see the show, a federally permitted fly handler named Ken Osborne readied himself to catch a single fly unharmed. Our permit allowed for just one fly to be caught, so if it was injured or flew off before I got the picture, that would be our tough luck. Neither of us slept a wink the night before. [Biologist Ken Osborne] was able to find a fly, net it, then run it back to my rolling photo studio, a GMC Yukon lined with bed sheets. He knocked it out with CO2 gas, then let it wake up a few seconds later on my black velvet background. To our amazement, it stayed there a groomed itself, giving me several minutes to shoot. Ken then gently scooped it into a jar, took it back to the place he found it, and we all watched it fly off.”
Grizzly Bear, Ursus arctos horribilis; population about 1,500. Sedgewick County Zoo, Wichita, Kansas. Sartore: “This grizzly you see isn’t tame; he’s just hungry. My friends at the Sedgewick County Zoo in Wichita allowed me to paint off an exhibition cell with nontoxic white paint and then load in the bear. He stood in the center of the room hoping to get treats tossed in, and I shot through the bars. As soon as our shoot was over, we powerwashed the paint off the walls and floor. Mission accomplished.”
California Condor, Gymnogyps californianus; population 356; Phoenix Zoo, Phoenix Arizona. Sartore: “This species nearly didn’t make it, but now there are more than 300 condors alive, and some of those birds fly free again. The bird you see here is known simply as Male #50. He flew in the wild for a time, until a collision with Arizona’s Navajo Bridge dislocated his right wing at the wrist. He’ll be an educational bird from now on—starting with this photograph.”