Photo Ark Project Aims to Document 12,000 Species

Saving the world’s animals, one photo at a time.

National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore started Photo Ark at his hometown zoo in Lincoln, Nebraska. His mission: to photograph every species currently in captivity in order to create an unprecedented archive of global biodiversity and to inspire people to save the most vulnerable creatures on the planet.

Sartore has taken great pains to make sure that each animal is presented with the same dignity and importance as the next. “I use simple black and white backgrounds, which make all animals appear to be the same size, no matter how large or small they might be in the wild,” Sartore says of his methods. “If you look closely enough,” he says, “a tortoise is as magnificent as a tiger.”

In this way, Sartore hopes to inspire not only respect for the smallest creature but also a desire to help. Some of the animals he’s photographed have been the last of their kind, kept alive in captivity because wild populations have all died out. Sartore knows better than anyone that, for many of Earth’s creatures, time is running out.

“I want people around the world to look these animals in the eye, and then fall in love with creatures as dazzling as a pheasant or as odd as an octopus,” Sartore says. “I believe all of us have a great capacity to care. And when we do, we can accomplish amazing things.”

Photo Ark: Portraits of Wildlife Worth Saving

Ten years into the project, Sartore has photographed 6,000 of the 12,000 species in captivity around the world, and he knows he still has a long way to go to achieve his goal.

For now, he’s teaming up with National Geographic to deliver his powerful portraits into the hands of book lovers of all ages.

Animal Ark (ISBN 978-1-4263-2767-4, $15.99), published by National Geographic Kids, is a collaboration between Sartore’s stunning images and the lyrical poetry of Newbery Medal-winning author Kwame Alexander. Alexander, along with his co-authors Mary Rand Hess and Deanna Nikaido, use poetry to invite kids to explore each creature’s markings, textures, and attributes in stunning detail, while calling on everyone to protect the most vulnerable.

Author Kwame Alexander reads "Chorus of Creatures," a poem that appears in Animal Ark.

The Photo Ark (ISBN 978-1-4262-1777-7, $35) features 400 of Sartore’s images along with profiles of heroes in the area of conservation. Harrison Ford, Vice Chair of Conservation International, writes the foreword, and the book includes an opening essay by veteran nature writer Douglas Chadwick.

To top it all off, PBS will air a special in June on Joel Sartore and Photo Ark called Rare. This three-part series follows Sartore in his quest to photograph the animals of the world. Learn all about what it takes to be a wildlife photographer, and watch as Sartore deals with playful chimps, savage birds, and bewildered bison.

Take Action

If you are inspired by the work that Joel Sartore and National Geographic are doing, there are many ways to get involved. Visit for more information.