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Joel Sartore: The Modern Noah

International wildlife photographer Joel Sartore speaks to San Joaquin Valley Town Hall

[/media-credit] Joel Sartore shares about his conservation project, Photo Ark, at San Joaquin Valley Town Hall, Jan. 19.

“I want people to care, to fall in love, to take action!” – Joel Sartore

National Geographic photographer and conservationist Joel Sartore opens up the world he explores and challenges the crowd during Town Hall at Saroyan Theater, Jan. 19.

Sartore, who has 1.6 million Instagram followers,  found a way to use his camera as an instrument for change in many animal conservation projects. Sometimes it’s as easy as one single image – although getting that image is not always easy. 

Many stories from the field left the audience laughing or in awe of the finished image. The set-up to capture still shots of animals requires patience and planning. This doesn’t always go as planned, as seen in this video at Sunset Zoo with a photo shoot of a chimpanzee.

Sartore started working with National Geographic 30 years ago, shooting images and telling the stories of over 12,000 endangered animals. In 2006, Sartore, alongside Nat Geo, founded the Photo Ark. His goal for Photo Ark is to photograph 15,000 endangered species around the globe. 

The Photo Ark’s signature brand involves plain black and white backgrounds to show that animals, no matter their size, have an equal voice. A red-eyed tree frog appears just as significant as a white rhinoceros. His journey in capturing these creatures leads him all over the world. 

Prior to photographing endangered animals, Sartore was known for expressing humor behind the lens, which is harder than you think. Chasing unique stories from State Fairs like hypnotists, mother-daughter look alike contests, and the epic cockroach tractor pulls, eventually caused him to wonder if there was more for him.

In 2005, Sartore’s wife, Kathy Sartore, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not only did it alter his whole life, it also changed his perspective on his career. Her illness, which forced him to stay home, showed Sartore that he could blend passion and career, all while embracing family life. Kathy fought a long battle and eventually beat cancer with her husband by her side. 

“It is folly to think that we can destroy one species and ecosystem after another and not affect humanity,” he says. “When we save species, we’re actually saving ourselves.”- Joel Sartore

Regarding animal extinction, it is hard to find exact estimations, as there are many variables. However, according to Animals around the globe, between 200-2000 animals go extinct every year. Scientists at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity estimate up to 150 species may go extinct every day.  

This alarming data fuels Sartore. Each species has a major effect on their environment. A majority of these rare creatures will never be seen by the human population. That is until Sartore, the “modern Noah,” pledged to photograph these dying creatures.

When asked which animal is his favorite, he responds, “The next one.”

Alarmed by the danger to Australia’s koala population in developing urban neighborhoods, Sartore was able to use a single image of over 20 deceased koalas attacked by dogs to push for change. The Australian government was slow to recognize the species as threatened, and when nurses at a wildlife hospital held back a weeks worth of dead koalas, Sartore knew an image could speak volumes. (Click here for graphic image). Quickly their status was changed.

[/media-credit] Photojournalists (left-to-right), juniors Trinity Cox, Elise Bessey and Aubrey Graham, travel to Town Hall to hear from Joel Sartore about his Photo Ark.

Along with traveling the world to preserve endangered animals, Sartore has given over 300 speeches worldwide about his passion. “Do what you can with what you have.”

Taking the opportunity at Town Hall to step up to the mic and ask him what we can do as high schoolers, he reminded me that I have influence over my parents and in my community. 

“Using your influence start with telling your parents you are not allowed to pour poison all over the ground,” Sartore said. “Look into the issues that you care about, plant native plants in your yard, eat less meat, watch your use of plastics. Small things like putting stickers on glass windows to help the birds who get killed everyday from flying into glass.”

Conservation can make big strides when individuals decide to join the group effort. Try to recycle more, bike or walk instead of driving, read food labels and be aware of unethically sourced ingredients like palm oil. 

More suggestions can be found on his website.

“In the time of your life, live – so that on that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite variety and mystery of it.” – William Saroyan

How will you choose to make a difference in the world? Whether big or small the question is… will you?

To read more from  San Joaquin Valley Town Hall visit, Gen. John F. Kelly speaks at SJV Town Hall about drug epidemic, time in White House.

For more information about Joel Sartore and his new addition The Video Ark visit his YouTube channel.


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About the Contributor
Elise Bessey
Elise Bessey, Photojournalist
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    EmmaJan 28, 2022 at 12:16 pm

    Great article Elise! What an amazing story!