Fighting for a healthier future

Founder of the Photo Ark, Joel Sartore is on a mission to save the wildlife creatures of the planet, and with it, the humans that control it.

Allie Utley, Editor

Being charged by a musk ox bull on Nunivak Island in Alaska and hiding under a safari truck to escape a bison outside Canton, Kansas is not out of the ordinary for National Geographic photographer, Joel Sartore. Sartore, a Nebraska native with ties to southeast Kansas, spoke to Iola students and later to the public at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center as a part of the Sleeper Family Trust on Tuesday, November 14th, presenting his greatest accomplishment and ongoing goal, the Photo Ark.

The Photo Ark began in 2005 when Sartore’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and his career traveling and working with National Geographic came to a sudden halt. When he had more time to think about the importance of life, one question continued to haunt him: How could he get people to care that the Earth would lose over half of all species by the turn of the next century?

For most of his life, Sartore has been interested in photography and documenting wildlife animals, so he decided to take that same path for his project. He began taking portraits of animals with plain black or white backgrounds, giving people the opportunity to see the animals as they truly are, and giving a mouse the opportunity to be just as powerful as a lion.

The Photo Ark has grown since it began more than a decade ago, and Sartore has photographed 7,500 species, nearly half of all endangered species in the last 11 years and is still on the move. He plans to complete his work with the Photo Ark and spread awareness by speaking to people around the world about the project, just as he did in Iola.

“I think the best way is to try to take pictures that show nature and show how interesting and amazing it is, and that it is so worth saving. It’s so diverse and adaptive. I’m trying to make nature entertaining, fun, and engaging. That’s the key. If it’s not engaging, then we won’t capture people’s imaginations,” Sartore says. “I think that people do care, I believe people care a lot. But one of the things they have to do is meet these animals. It’s hard to care about something that you’ve never met. So that’s where the Photo Ark comes in. We’re trying to get people to understand that there is more to life than just Kim Kardashian and who won the ballgame. So It’s important to educate people and get them to know that this is a critical time in history, and basically, that nature is ours to lose at this point. So I think people do care, but that young people especially are removed. They’re playing videos all the time or they are constantly texting on their phones. There is less connection to nature as there was before at a time where we need more connection.” 

Allie Utley
Joel Sartore presenting at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center.

Sartore says the best way to help him on his mission to preserve wildlife animals and their habitats is by correctly insulated your homes, eating locally grown foods, recycling, and supporting local zoos and wildlife groups.

“I think we need everyone in this boat rowing together,” Sartore also commented.

Sartore plans to finish the Photo Ark project within approximately the next 15 years and spread awareness about wildlife conservation globally. With an upcoming trip to Moscow, Russia and with previous trips to the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Rome, and Poland, the Photo Ark is slowly making its way across the globe and has no intentions of stopping.

“It’s a responsibility that I have taken upon myself to become a voice for the voiceless, to really give these animals a chance to have their stories told before they go away. That’s what keeps me going.”

For more information about the Photo Ark visit Sartore’s website, or visit the Photo Ark gallery at