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National Geographic photographer builds a new kind of ‘ark'

National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore is trying to save the planet with his camera.

Sartore will speak Tuesday, March 14 at Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College. He will share stories about his mission to take portraits of the world’s captive species.

The project is called Photo Ark, and his goal is to take studio photographs of the roughly 12,000 species in captivity.

“My job, my passion, or what I’m trying to explore and share is the fact that we are throwing away the ark,” Sartore said, adding that he wants “to document as many of the world’s captive species as I can before I die.”

In the past 11 years, he has photographed about 6,500 of these animals. He estimates it will take another 15 years or so to photograph the rest.

“Photo Ark is geared toward getting people to think about how consumer choices affect nature and why we should care,” Sartore said.

He photographs the animals in a studio setting, in front of black or white backdrops with studio lighting.

“I want people to look these animals in the eye and see the beauty of them all,” he said.

“I think photography has tremendous potential in terms of moving people to action. These are pictures that go to work. These are pictures that work every day, long after I’m dead these things are going to go to work to save these species.”

The project is a lot of work. Sartore’s missed family birthdays and holidays to photograph animals. So why does he do it?

“Because we’re saving the Earth,” he said, “and all there’s in it.”

The species

3 species Sartore is most concerned about right now:

1. Monarch butterflies: These butterfly populations are declining because they are losing their habitat. Sartore said they have about five years left if something isn’t done. What can be done? Plant milkweed. “We have to do it in a really big way to save the migration process,” he said. Go to www.monarchwatch.org for more information.

2. Florida grasshopper sparrow: This little bird lives in the prairies of Florida. “They’re in critical condition there,” Sartore said.

3. Sumatran rhino: “This species is in steep decline because of habitat loss … and they’re being killed routinely (for tusks) in Asia,” Sartore said.

2 species moving off the endangered list:

1. California condor: “This is a huge success story,” Sartore said. Thanks to a captive breeding program, this condor is now off the list.

2. Black-footed ferret: A captive breeding program has resurrected this species, which is “on its way to recovery.”

To learn more about Sartore's project, go to www.natgeophotoark.org.

If you go

Joel Sartore: Building the Photo Ark

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 14

WHERE: Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College, 7300 College St.