Renowned Photographer Joel Sartore Travels the Globe to Create the Photo Ark

PBS’ RARE: Creatures of the Photo Ark profiles renowned National Geographic photographer, author and conservationist Joel Sartore as he documents threatened species at zoos, in nature preserves and more for his long-running “Photo Ark” project. 

Episode 2 – Premieres Tuesday, July 25 at 9/8C
Joel will go anywhere to add another rare species to the Photo Ark. He travels to Spain to photograph the Iberian lynx, once the rarest cat in the world. He gets a rare look inside a breeding center that teaches lynx how to hunt their main food source: rabbits. But scientists working in China might be too late in saving the Yangtze giant softshell turtle. With only three left in the world, Joel witnesses an attempt to artificially inseminate the last known female and keep this species from going extinct.

Joel hates hiking, but in Cameroon, he has the opportunity to glimpse the Cross River gorilla in the wild. Little is known about the rarest great ape in the world and he gets close enough to nap in its nest. But the highlight of the trek is extracting beetles from cow dung – because every creature counts in the Photo Ark.

Press Release:

BOSTON, MA [June 28, 2017] – Renowned National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore is a natural-born storyteller. His Photo Ark project is a digital “collection” of the world’s mammals, fish, amphibians, birds, reptiles and insects, and the focus of RARE-Creatures of the Photo Ark. This captivating new three-part series, produced by WGBH Boston and premiering on PBS in Summer 2017, follows Sartore as he documents threatened species at zoos, in nature preserves, and more. Throughout RARE, scientists and naturalists reveal surprising and important information about why ensuring the future of these animals is so critical. Follow Sartore’s adventures at #RarePBS.

RARE-Creatures of the Photo Ark premieres on consecutive Tuesdays—on July 18, July 25 and August 1—at 9 pm ET/8c on PBS.

Author, conservationist and National Geographic Fellow, Sartore has traveled to nearly 40 countries to photograph 6,395 species for the Photo Ark to date, including 576 amphibians, 1,839 birds, 716 fish, 1,123 invertebrates, 896 mammals, and 1,245 reptiles in captivity. When complete the Photo Ark will be one of the most comprehensive records of the world’s biodiversity. Through RARE, audiences can journey with Sartore across the globe—to Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and Oceania—to chronicle his experiences. 

“Viewers will see the spectacular variety and beauty of these animals, large and small, whose lives are intertwined with ours,” said John Bredar, executive producer of RARE and VP of National Programming for WGBH. “The loss of biodiversity exacts a toll on all our lives.” 

In the premiere episode of RARE, prankish semi-habituated lemurs playfully crawl over Sartore at Madagascar’s Lemur Island rehab center, during one of his easiest photography shoots. Others are more challenging: as no amount of tasty, tempting raw carrots can persuade a 500-pound, 150-year-old giant tortoise to stand on his mark or get ready for his close-up. Likewise, in Florida, a photo of an elusive bunny taking refuge near an active U.S. Navy airstrip has taken four years to procure for the Photo Ark. It’s all in a day’s work….

Sartore knows he is in a race against time. Sometimes he is able to photograph 30 to 40 species in a few days. Others are disappearing before he can get to them. RARE looks at factors driving extinction, including deforestation, rising sea levels, invasive species, pollution and human development, all impacting creatures essential to the world’s ecosystems.

“RARE provides audiences the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of an exceptional photographer with an extraordinary mission. We share Joel’s goal that through his photography and these films, people will be inspired to care while there is time,” says Laurie Donnelly, executive producer of RARE and director of Lifestyle Programming at WGBH, where she has overseen series such as I’ll Have What Phil’s Having and Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler. 

In the second hour, Sartore travels around the globe in pursuit of some of the rarest and most vulnerable creatures on earth—trying to capture these species for the Photo Ark before they go extinct. In China, he goes in search of the Yangtze giant softshell turtle, with just three left on the planet, and the South China tiger, which has not been seen in the wild for more than 30 years. In Spain, he photographs one of the rarest small cats, the Iberian lynx, whose numbers fell to fewer than a hundred 15 years ago, then he heads to Africa to the mountain rainforest of Cameroon to accompany scientists working on the frontlines to save the cross river gorilla, the rarest gorilla on earth.

In RARE’s final episode, Sartore treks up a mountain in New Zealand to photograph the rowi kiwi, accompanying a naturalist to rescue its egg successfully. Without this intervention, there is only a five percent chance of survivability for this rare flightless bird. 

But there are also losses: at the Dvur Kralove Zoo near Prague, in one of RARE’s most emotional moments, Sartore’s camera records a northern white rhino—a very old female and, at the time, one of only five left in the world. Now, only three remain.

Sartore likes photographing the smallest creatures for the Photo Ark because they’re often more important to the health of an ecosystem than the big ones, like the naked mole rat: blind, buck-toothed and hairless, it is also cancer-resistant—and scientists are researching why. And he has seen how photos can lead to change. His images of parrots in South America and koalas in Australia prompted local governments to protect them. In the U.S., coverage of the Photo Ark has helped to save the Florida grasshopper sparrow and the Salt Creek tiger beetle.

“Fifty percent of all animals are threatened with extinction, and it’s folly to think we can drive half of everything else to extinction but that people will be just fine,” says Sartore. “That’s why I created what’s now called the National Geographic Photo Ark. I hope seeing the images fills people with wonder and inspires them to want to protect these species.”

RARE is premiering in conjunction with an ongoing initiative by National Geographic, which is showcasing the Photo Ark project throughout 2017 on multiple platforms, including exhibitions around the world, two new books and digital features. Learn more at

RARE—Creatures of the Photo Ark is a production of WGBH Boston and So World Media, LLC in association with National Geographic Channels. Executive producers are John Bredar and Laurie Donnelly. Series producer/writer: Stella Cha. Producer/director: Chun-Wei Yi. RARE is made possible with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, The Kendeda Fund, the Candis J. Stern Foundation and public television viewers.
RARE – Creatures of the Photo Ark is part of “PBS Summer of Adventure,” taking viewers and their families on an adventure around the world this season. The lineup of history, science and natural history programming includes the six-part series THE STORY OF CHINA, an exploration of China’s 4,000-year history featuring Michael Wood beginning June 20. The five-part program BIG PACIFIC, starting June 21, reveals the Pacific Ocean’s most guarded secrets. Following BIG PACIFIC on June 21, GREAT YELLOWSTONE THAW is a three-part series showcasing the stories of different animal families as they attempt to survive the toughest spring on Earth. On July 12, the three-part NATURE’S GREAT RACE explores the most astounding migrations on earth. WEEKEND IN HAVANA is a one-hour walking tour through Cuba on July 18. In WILD ALASKA LIVE, airing live over three nights beginning July 23, witness a must-see natural spectacle as thousands of the world’s wildest animals gather to take part in Alaska’s amazing summer feast. 

On August 2, IRELAND’S WILD COAST takes viewers on a one-hour journey along the island’s rugged Atlantic coast. Summer of Adventure will also include PBS KIDS programming, featuring three new one-hour specials: NATURE CAT: OCEAN COMMOTION (premieres June 19), WILD KRATTS ALASKA: HERO’S JOURNEY (premieres Monday, July 24.) and READY JET GO!: BACK TO BORTRON 7 (premieres August 14).

Sources: WGBH Boston  hearing or visual impairments. More info at , PBS

Previews & Scenes/Animals & Locations in episode:

Episode 3 (series finale)- Premieres Tuesday, August 1 at 9/8c
In his 25 years as a National Geographic photographer, Joel Sartore has learned to never ignore the smaller creatures in our midst. Joel gets us up close with colorful and charismatic insects with faces and features usually found in sci-fi flicks, because “they help make the world go ‘round.” Joel also goes in search of larger animals. In the Czech Republic and in one of the series’ most poignant moments, Joel boards the rarest rhinoceros in the world onto the Photo Ark. Nabiré is one of only five of northern white rhinos left on the planet and it may be too late for her kind.

Joel’s got one more hike-he’d-rather-not-hike in him, this time in New Zealand where he tags along on a Rowi kiwi egg rescue. By taking and hatching these enormous kiwi eggs, scientists give these birds a fighting chance against unnatural predators. If they didn’t rescue the eggs, the species would go extinct.

Previews & Scenes/Animals & Locations in episode:

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