Both Beauty and Extinction, Staring Us in the Eyes

The drive to capture what's fleeting and beautiful exists for all of us—look no further than your photo-packed phone. For Joel Sartore, that instinct took him on a quest to archive the world's biodiversity. The Lincoln, Nebraska-based photographer has traveled to 40 countries and made portraits of more than 9,000 species as part of the National Geographic Photo Ark.

Sartore started the Photo Ark about 11 years ago with the goals of educating people about these animals, inspiring action and supporting conservation efforts. The problem is urgent: As many as 1 million species are headed toward extinction.

"It’s folly to think that we can throw away so much life and not have it affect humanity in a profound and negative way," Sartore says in a recent interview. “The biggest question of our time is: Will we wake up and act, or will we stare into our smartphones all the way down to disaster? My goal is to get the public to care about the extinction crisis while there’s still time to save the planet and everything that lives here.”

With his striking images, Sartore documents not only the stunning and cuddly creatures, but the strange and unsettling ones, too. Taken together, the photos create a sense of awe, and they might even choke you up. “It’s the eye contact that moves people,” Sartore says. “It engages their feelings of compassion and a desire to help.”

Neofelis nebulosa (on Homo sapiens)
Canis rufus gregoryi
Propithecus coquereli
Phascolarctos cinereus
Rhinopithecus roxellana
Panthera tigris jacksoni
Puma concolor coryi
Nycticebus pygmaeus
Gyps africanus
Pongo pygmaeus and Pongo pygmaeus x abelii
Brachylophus fasciatus
Geochelone platynota
Joel Sartore