For nearly 12 years, wildlife photographer Joel Sartore has been on a mission to capture images of all 12,000 animal species in human care around the world. Sartore’s project, called the National Geographic Photo Ark, is the focus of a three-part PBS series premiering on consecutive Tuesdays starting July 18. RARE—Creatures of the Photo Ark follows him into zoos, nature preserves, and the wild to document imperiled species and learn about the threats they face.
Birds make up nearly one-third of the roughly 6,400 species Sartore has photographed for the Photo Ark so far (you can see many of them on his Instagram feed), and they are some of the stars of the PBS series. He visits a Madagascar Fish-Eagle, one of the world’s rarest raptors, at a zoo in its namesake country. In New Zealand he tags along with naturalists to gather the eggs of Rowi Kiwi—the rarest of the five kiwi species—so they can hatch safely out of predators’ reach. And he follows scientists exploring the relationship between the ripening of a local fruit and the fertility of the world’s heaviest parrot, the flightless and critically endangered Kakapo.
And then there’s an encounter with a male White-crowned Hornbill that goes after Sartore’s $6,000 camera with the business end of its beak, drawing blood from the photographer’s finger. “This is one of those birds that’s gonna try to blind me?” Sartore says as he tries to avoid the hornbill’s advances. “Not a bashful bird at all,” he jokes.
The project has gained some urgency, alongside all biodiversity conservation efforts, after researchers warned last week that we’ve entered an era of “biological annihilation,” with thousands of species on the ropes. Sartore says he hopes his images can help inspire people to take action to save threatened animals.
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Tune in to RARE—Creatures of the Photo Ark at 9 p.m. EST (check local listings) on July 18, July 25, and August 1 on PBS. Click here to learn more about the series, and follow along at #RarePBS.