Joel Sartore’s photos of (mostly) endangered species

The readers’ wildlife tank is emptying (send in your good photos, please), so today I’ll repost some of the superb work of National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore (yes, the magazine’s content is going downhill, but the photos are and have always been the best part). Sartore took a year off to help his wife during a bout of breast cancer, and, as the BBC reports, he decided to call attention to the plight of the world’s endangered species:

“I thought maybe if we do eye-contact, if we photograph animals where there are no distractions, all equal in size on black and white backgrounds, where a mouse is every bit as big and amazing as an elephant, then maybe we could get the public hooked into the plight of endangered species and extinction,” he says.

Traveling the world for Nat. Geo., he got photos like this (captions from the BBC site, whose words are indented; and I’ve added my own link and words (flush left):

The Florida panther is an endangered species of cougar. Once down to only 20 individuals, there seem to be about 160 now:


Florida Panther (Puma concolor coryi) Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa, Florida © Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark

As the project grew, it caught the attention of editors at National Geographic, who commissioned Sartore to produce a few series of photographs, on amphibians for example, and America’s endangered species.

The photographer began travelling the world armed with different-sized tents in which to photograph smaller animals like birds and lizards. For the larger ones, he remained reliant on the safer environment of zoos.

This species is a frugivorous denizen of the Amazon basin, and is not considered endangered:


Curl-crested araçari (Pteroglossus beauharnaesii) Dallas World Aquarium, Texas © Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark

Sartore has also photographed one of the last surviving northern white rhinos in a zoo in the Czech Republic.

“We got to her just in time,” he says of the animal, who was called Nabire.

“We got a very nice portrait of her and she laid down and went to sleep at the end of the shoot because she slept a lot at the end of her life.”

She died about a week later.

With her death, and the death of another northern white rhino in San Diego not long afterwards, there are only three of the species left, all living under armed-guard in Kenya. They are too old to breed, though a conservation project is attempting to create an embryo through IVF which would be implanted in the womb of a similar rhino species.

“It’s not just the little things we’re allowing to slip into extinction,” says Sartore.

“It’s the big stuff too, unfortunately.”

This species occurs in Indonesia and New Guinea, and was described only in 1990. It’s known for the “smiley face” it often seems to have:


Reimann’s snake-necked turtle (Chelodina reimanni) Atlanta Zoo, Atlanta © Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark

Like its cousin the naked mole rat, the Damaraland mole rat, from southern Africa, is eusocial (one breeding female and worker castes)—they’re the only two mammals known to be eusocial.


Damaraland mole rats (Fukomys damarensis) Houston Zoo, Houston, Texas © Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark

The fennec, from the Sahara desert, is the world’s smallest canid, weighing about half as much as a house cat. It’s not endangered. Notice the large ears to facilitate heat loss.


Fennec Fox (Vulpes zerda) St. Louis Zoo, Missouri © Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark

I’m not sure what species this quilled fellow belongs to; perhaps readers can help.


“This animal was the sweetest little guy. He gave us all sorts of different body languages and facial expressions during the shoot. I remember also that he was eating through most of the portrait session as well. So he may look shy, but he was actually very happy at this moment.” © Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark

Like all lemurs, this sifaka is found in Madagascar. Living in only two small protected areas, it’s considered endangered.


Coquerel’s sifaka (Propithecus coquereli) Houston Zoo, Houston, Texas © Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark

From equatorial Africa, this pangolin is considered threatened:


African White-Bellied Tree Pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) Pangolin Conservation, St. Augustine, Florida © Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark


Joel Sartore on assignment in Brazil's Pantanal region.

Joel Sartore on assignment in Brazil’s Pantanal region.


h/t: Michael F.


  1. kevin7alexander
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    If the fennec’s ears were just about heat loss they probably wouldn’t have that perfect acoustic shape. I’m guessing that they are nocturnal hunters.

    • Posted January 2, 2017 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      I think they’re mostly about heat given that canids that are nocturnal hunters in colder places have smaller ears. And rabbits, which I don’t think are nocturnal, and certainly aren’t hunters, show the same pattern: small in species like Arctic hares and big in desert jackrabbits. But yes, the size difference could partly reflect acoustics.

  2. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    The quilled rodent is the Brazilian porcupine – Coendou prehensilis. It has a prehensile tail.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted January 2, 2017 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      From that pose, it looks to be from the genus do-no-evil.

  3. Merilee
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 8:41 am | Permalink


  4. rickflick
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Delightful creatures.

  5. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    When I see that araçari eye and crest region, it leaves me little doubt that I am looking at a living dinosaur.

    To add to the captions, the Damaraland mole rat seems to be a species of “Least Concern” [ ]. I was happy to find that we may keep our only two eusocial mammals for a while.

  6. Christopher
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    absolutely lovely pics but why do “we” have to attach the word “ark” to everything that has a bunch of animals? I know that’s a bit nitpicky, but it does get tiresome.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted January 2, 2017 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      Shorthand for Archive? Are there landscapes in the Photo Ark, too?

    • Hempenstein
      Posted January 2, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      Also note over on the Ham thread that the WaPo referred to the facsimile vessel as a boat, which must have hacked Ham off. (Speaking of that, now I want a sandwich.)

  7. Frank Bath
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Ace photographs. The portrait of the cougar and the shy porcupine are the best for me.

  8. keith cook +/-
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    nice batch of eye contact… thanks.

  9. Marilee Lovit
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    Very beautiful. Thank you.

  10. Mike
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Brilliant Photo’s ,I love the expression on the Spiny One, looks as though someone pulled the Shower Curtain back and caught him unawares, and the Damaraland Mole Rat has the edge on its cousin which must be the ugliest Animal on the Planet, lastly the expression on the face of Coquerel’s sifaka reminds me of a kindly Prof waiting for an answer.

    • kateydandelion
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      Aww, I think mole rats are kind of cute and endearing looking, in their own ways.

  11. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted January 3, 2017 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Beautiful, expressive photos. I like the Fennec Fox. Very sweet.

    I would note for context that the quilled, spikey chap is clearly defending an incoming free-kick ( Said creature is presumably a centre-back judging from its stocky build. They probably spend a fortune on replacing punctured balls.

    • Mike
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 6:54 am | Permalink

      His or the Teams.?

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