National Geographic

Portraits Of America's Endangered Species

Joel Sartore is like the Richard Avedon for animals — except rather than showing up in fashion spreads, his photographs are often in National Geographic magazine, including this month's special water-themed issue. Sartore's latest project is a book called Rare: Portraits of America's Endangered Species, which was released just this week. On plain black or white backdrops, he presents poignant portraits of U.S. wildlife threatened by extinction.

  • A mated pair of threatened flattened musk turtles (Sternotherus depressus) at the Tennessee Aquarium. A few months after this photo was taken, the male (smaller) ate the female.
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    A mated pair of threatened flattened musk turtles (Sternotherus depressus) at the Tennessee Aquarium. A few months after this photo was taken, the male (smaller) ate the female.
    Photos from the book Rare by Joel Sartore/National Geographic
  • Chiricahua leopard frog (Rana chiricahuensis) tadpoles at the Phoenix Zoo.
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    Chiricahua leopard frog (Rana chiricahuensis) tadpoles at the Phoenix Zoo.
  • One of fewer than 10 woodland caribou in U.S. zoos, Costello the caribou would stand patiently anywhere in exchange for a reward of grape leaves.
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    One of fewer than 10 woodland caribou in U.S. zoos, Costello the caribou would stand patiently anywhere in exchange for a reward of grape leaves.
  • Bryn, a now-extinct Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit, sat for this portrait in 2007. She died in 2008, marking the end of her genetic line. This subpopulation lost its sagebrush habitat as the land was developed for agriculture in Washington state.
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    Bryn, a now-extinct Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit, sat for this portrait in 2007. She died in 2008, marking the end of her genetic line. This subpopulation lost its sagebrush habitat as the land was developed for agriculture in Washington state.
  • A captive northern spotted owl in a clear-cut near Merlin, Ore. Habitat loss and climate change are the two primary factors leading to the extinction of species.
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    A captive northern spotted owl in a clear-cut near Merlin, Ore. Habitat loss and climate change are the two primary factors leading to the extinction of species.
  • A timber wolf (Canis lupus) named Kenai at the New York State Zoo.
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    A timber wolf (Canis lupus) named Kenai at the New York State Zoo.
  • A California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense), an endangered amphibian, at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.
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    A California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense), an endangered amphibian, at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.
  • Hours-old least tern (Sterna antillarum athalassos) chicks sleep as they're photographed near North Bend, Neb.
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    Hours-old least tern (Sterna antillarum athalassos) chicks sleep as they're photographed near North Bend, Neb.

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"To see the last of any species in a glass jar of a museum preservative is an absolute outrage to me," Sartore writes in the introduction. The photographer traveled from coast to coast, from the Oregon Zoo in Portland to the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, to capture America's flora and fauna that are dwindling in numbers. "By photographing the most endangered of our plants and animals," he writes, "I can make the most dramatic plea to get folks to stop and take a look at the pieces and parts that we're throwing away."

Check out this video that shows the making of Sartore's book. You can also see more photos from the April magazine article on saving freshwater species. A selection of the photos will on be display at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., through October, and Sartore will presenting a National Geographic Live lecture on Tuesday, April 20.

RARE: Behind the Scenes from Joel Sartore on Vimeo.

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