Photograph by Joel Sartore
Photograph by Joel Sartore

The Moment: Body Count

This story appears in the May 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Body Count Staff from an animal care center in Queensland, Australia, helped photographer Joel Sartore make this array of a single week’s koala losses. Some of the dead, like the mother and baby in the bottom row, were attacked by dogs. Others were struck by cars. A few, like those shown brightly bandaged, arrived alive and received treatment for their injuries but still did not survive. —Margaret G. Zackowitz

Behind the Lens

Q: How—and why—did you take this photograph?

A: I knew I had to get a picture of dead koalas for this story, but I kept running into trouble. People at the animal clinic I was working with said it would look bad. The Australian government doesn’t even like to acknowledge that these koalas are endangered. But the staff at one place I visited thought this was an important picture to make. They told me that in this area these animals will be gone entirely in another three to five years. They want the world to know that. So instead of disposing of the bodies as the dead koalas arrived during the week, the staff members saved them for me back in a freezer room at the facility. One of the workers smuggled them out for me to photograph, and when we were done, we went back and replaced them in the freezer.

Q: How did that make you feel?

A: Talk about a sinking feeling. Even though I’d never seen these particular koalas alive, I kind of felt like I’d gotten to know them. Putting them all back in a bin in the freezer room was hard. The one that really got me was the mother with the baby still in her arms.