What Will Make Us Care Enough to Save Endangered Species?

A photographer and a scientist hope that evocative photos will ignite a passion for protecting threatened animals.

Consider the shoebill, whose photo opens this article. It’s a one-of-a-kind species on the verge of extinction—exactly the type targeted for protection by the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered species program, aka EDGE of Existence. But when I started the EDGE initiative in 2007, the challenge was getting people who’d never heard of those animals to commit to protecting them.

Ideally I could have gone to the leading marketing agency for nature and asked what to do to get people to emotionally connect with these weird and wonderful creatures. But no such agency exists—and we’ve only begun to develop both the art and science of making this vital connection.

Tim Flach photographed the birds in this article; all are in his book Endangered, to which I contributed. Flach has a unique ability to capture an animal’s essence and an affinity for unusual, obscure creatures. We saw the book as a great opportunity to explore which images of species and habitats would elicit an emotional response.

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