Premieres July 18, July 25 and August 1 at 9 pm ET on PBS
(Check your local listings)
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. ThroughRARE, audiences can journey with Sartore across the globe—to Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and Oceania—to chronicle his experiences.
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.
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.”