Book Recollection: Rare

I decided to pinch the Yellow stream for a quick post on a book recollection.  This is mainly due to something that arrived in the mail just a few days ago, but more on that later.  Today’s post is on a book called Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species by Photographer Joel Sartore.  Like the previous book recollection post on Decisive Moments (link here), this photographer’s work is one of my favorites (to be honest, he is probably tops in my list).  As you can guess, he is a photographer for National Geographic and has a focus on bringing awareness to endangered species.  There are wildlife photographers that can capture a shot by getting all the technical details right such as lighting, focus, aperture and shutter speed.  There are also photographers who are able to illicit emotion from the viewer by capturing the mood and feel of a situation.  Without a doubt, Joel is one of the few people who is able to produce a shot with both of those qualities.  As an example, just take a look at the Red Wolf in the cover shot.  The 2 subjects reside at the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  This proud species is fighting for their survival with only 330 of them left (at time of publication).  As Joel states in his book, their relationship at the top of the predator food chains makes them susceptible to lead poisoning thanks to intolerance.  To be honest, this is not a book you put down feeling good about your place on earth.  Sure, there are some bright spots like the success stories on American Alligator recovery and the banning of DDT in 192 which was responsible for devastating the populations of our proud American symbol, the Bald Eagle as well as the Peregrine Falcon.  Having just come back from Yellowstone, let’s not forget the progress of the Gray Wolf recovery.  But for all those triumphs, there is the losing side of the battle.  This includes the last Dusky Seaside Sparrow whose final resting place is in a jar at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville Florida or the fragile Mississippi Sandhill Crane population of 155 birds residing in Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refugee that was put at great risk by Katrina.

I am not in a position to preach to anyone and I certainly have my biases, but if you get the opportunity, just take a look at this book.  Even if the message doesn’t hit a personal chord, simply enjoy the stunning photographs.  Joel does a nice job of capturing the subject in a black or white setting (intentionally done to illicit more emotion).  The book is organized by population sizes with a description of the plight of that particular animal, insect or plant and in some cases he includes a little background on where and how the shot was taken.  If nothing else, it will push the bar up a little higher on your own photography output.  The book was also published on high quality paper giving it almost a gallery feel that you can put on your coffee table.  If you like his photographs, keep an eye out for his other works.  For starters, his image in the Simply Beautiful Photographs (see recollection here) was quite stunning.

So, back to that mail delivery mentioned at the start.  As a wolf enthusiast, I feel obligated to help in their recovery.  As a member of the National Wolf Foundation based on Ely, Minn), a member of the local Wildlife Prairie Park (who have a very nice wolf pack) and a new member of the Yellowstone National Park Association I like to think in some small way I am helping make a difference.  A few months ago I was made aware of another effort to help my four legged friends.  Will Burrard-Lucas and Rebecca Jackrel (whose photography blog Lind and I actively follow) started a project to document the struggle for survival of Africa’s wolves – you can find more about the project at their website (link here).  They were asking for financial assistance to get the project off the ground and I jumped at the chance.  Since that time, I had slowly forgotten about it as the stress of the holidays began to set in.  Low and behold we received this postcard in the mail.  A handwritten postcard from Rebecca and Will from Ethiopia.  How cool is that!  Needless to say, I am excited to be a part of this and cannot wait to see the shots upon their return.

Hit the jump to see my takeaways from Rare

  • Joel has a shot of Bryn, the last pygmy rabbit who died in 2008.  It was nearly blind and missing half an ear.  His shot captures the feeling of an animal who probably new the end was coming (died a few months after shoot).  The line is unfortunately gone (except for some hybrids they are trying to reintroduce), but having captured that shot through the viewfinder must have been a window to the soul.
  • The Endangered Species Act (signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1973)was enacted to save both animals and plants with nearly 2,000 species on the list now.  It has been controversial since it was signed since it not only tries to save the subject, but also their habitat – 1,011 species in the US are listed as endangered – 301 threatened
  • Joel asks “Can you imagine a planet without wolves?” – No I cannot
  • 60 species were added during George Bush’s 8 years in office – 235 during his father’s 4 years
  • The Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf was recently taken of the list – Wyoming wolves are still under ESA protection
  • Since 1973, only 49 species have made it off the list (9 went extinct, 16 due to administration reasons and only 14 recovered enough to be delisted
  • He mentions that military bases are proving to be surprising havens for wildlife (The Black-Capped Virieo bird is surviving at Fort Hood, Texas)
  • The St.Andrew Beach Mouse is anthropomorphic – cute as can be and easy to love – but not by local developers who are wiping out their habitat – oh, and they are apparently very hard to photograph
  • The Hawaii State bird (the Hawaiian Goose – Nene) is struggling at only 2,050
  • Although the American Alligator is on a comeback (more than 1 million), the American Crocodile isn’t faring that well with less or equal to 2,000 left
  • There is a surprisingly only 1,500 Grizzlies left – he was actually able to get the needed shot of one by whitewashing an off-exhibit cell and baiting him with treats – once the shot was over they power washed all the paint off
  • There is actually a fly (the Delhi Sands Flower-Loving Fly) of which there is less than 1,000 left.  This is where recovery becomes a sticking point – as much as I am for a the recovery of wolves, it seems hard to get behind a fly, but it is difficult to take sides in this battle – I will say the act of photographing this insect was interesting – he had to get a permit to capture ONE and only ONE fly from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  If that fly was injured or flew off before the shot, that was tough luck.   The federally permitted fly handler was able to capture one and knock it out with CO2 gas.  This allowed them to put it in a makeshift portable studio where he was able to capture it on black velvet before letting it go.
  • Thanks to an island wide vaccination program on the Channel Islands in California, the Santa Catalina Island Fox may soon leave the endangered species list
  • We will have to check out the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin the next time we go snowboarding at Devil’s head.  Apparently a shortage of blue crabs along the Texas Gulf Coast led to the starvation and death of many Whooping Cranes (North America’s tallest bird) over the winter.  Shockingly, there was just an article in our local paper about a recent rare sighting of 5 young Whooping Cranes at a local wildlife refuge!
  • The Mexican Wolves are starting to stabilize in Arizona and New Mexico, but poachers and hostile public are still causing problems – Joel notes – “Generally speaking, the smaller the animals are the harder they are to photograph, with the exception of wolves, which are always hard.”
  • Already mentioned the Red Wolf is down to around 330.  They actually rounded up all the remaining ones in 1970 and started a captive breeding program – those 14 wolves kept their race alive and now over 100 of them roam free throughout five counties in North Carolina.
  • Apparently the wolverine doesn’t like to have his pictures taken.  They built whitewashed 1″ plywood walls at a New York Zoo only to have it demolished by the wolverine within minutes.  They were eventually able to get it done  using thin white sheets of paper instead which it was willing to walk across.
  • The Woodland Caribou are surviving mainly in Alaska but oil pipelines have blocked their migrations and hunters have significantly thinned their herds – indicates there are only 46 of this species left
  • Spotted Owl burgers are the tongue in cheek menu item in some Pacific Northwest logging communities – This owl actually competes and sometimes mates with the Barred Owl.
  • The American Peregrine Falcon is on the rebound – this particular bird in on my birding bucket list along with the Osprey
  • Joel states it very clearly – “Don’t let anyone tell you what to think [..] learn for yourself and make up your own mind”
  • Joel is also very worried about how to archive these pictures – especially if these may be the last image we have of them

That pretty much sums it up.  Take a gander if you get a chance, I don’t know how receptive you will be to the message, but at least give a look appreciate the pictures and.. well, make up your own mind.

2 thoughts on “Book Recollection: Rare”

  1. Some of these population numbers are pretty scary. I know someone who belongs to the International Crane Foundation and travels up to Wisconsin to see the young cranes led off by the ultralight to train them for migration. I assume you meant “301 habitats endangered”. I did know that about military bases—the old Joliet Arsenal area that was given to the state and is now under restoration as the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is somewhere I intend to visit. I had no real interest in grasslands until I found that so many cool birds nest in them.

    Here’s the list of endangered creatures in the US and Territories:

    I see the Fat Pocketbook is listed as endangered in Illinois—ain’t that the truth.

    I wish someone could send me a postcard from Africa with just my name and country on it and it would appear in my mailbox. Very impressive. That’s how I’m going to send your Christmas card–why write out all those pesky details?



  2. A friend of mine from work (John) was just informing me about the ultralight training – I had no idea. He also said they have crane muppets to feed them so they get accustomed to their natural feeding – it definitely sounds like a cool place to visit. I had a mistype with the 301. I looked it back up and it was supposed to read 301 threatened (not endangered) – sorry about that and thanks for the catch.

    I have to admit, I thought you were joking with the Fat Pocketbook comment – sure enough it is actually real – how totally IRONIC being in a completely broke state – I am guessing the next Illinois endangered listing will be the very rare Honest Governor.

    As far as the postcard goes, I didn’t know you had to put an address on it – all my mail simply comes to Brian in the USA (usually doesn’t have the last name, they must have been slightly concerned at the Ethiopian post office so added a that extra bit of information).

    Hey, thanks for all the comments, you’ve really been on top of my posts lately – maybe it is time to up my quota


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