Forgotten Victims of Environmental Destruction

The Least Among Us

| September-October, 2009

  • Forgotten victim of climate change

    image by Joel Sartore /

  • Forgotten victim of climate change

In a makeshift studio,  a flower-loving fly with enormous green eyes and hairy orange legs lies on a table, anesthetized by carbon dioxide. A federal fly handler stands over the insect—one of only a few hundred of its species left in the world, all in California, and the first fly ever listed under the Endangered Species Act. A photographer, clutching his camera, prepares to shoot. After waiting four months for the government permit needed to take pictures of this insect, Joel Sartore isn’t about to waste this opportunity—and he has only a minute before his subject will awake.

Sartore got the photo he envisioned, plus thousands of others during a yearlong endeavor to preserve for posterity wildlife heading toward extinction. The resulting series is “Last Ones: Threatened and Endangered Species.” Through the variety of images, some 10,000 in all, Sartore aims to raise awareness of just how much endangered wildlife is out there.

It often seems as though a few charismatic creatures—like the whooping crane or the grizzly bear—symbolize all the threatened ones to the public, Sartore says, but there are countless others that deserve attention. For “Last Ones,” he sought out species “great and small that each have a story to tell.” The St. Andrew beach mouse, pictured above, is one. (More photos are on his website,

“I’ve always been interested in endangered species and in ways to save them,” Sartore says. “Using photography is a good way to get people to pay attention to what’s at stake.”

Sartore’s ultimate goal is to spark interest and involvement in conservation, even though there might be no financial gain from his venture. “Endangered species belong to all of us,” he says. “At the heart of the story is this: Do we as a society treat the least among us with dignity and respect?”


Jeffery Biss
9/24/2009 3:50:42 PM

The problem with people is that they develop moralities that allow them to disregard the well being of those that they don't value because they consider themselves exalted to a position above all else; The perpetrator of an act determines whether the act is good or evil depending upon how the victim is valued without any regard to the well being of the victim. Pretty convenient. Until people realize that being a moral being brings with it the obligation to consider the well being of those not valued as a consequence of an action we will not be moral but immoral. What allows us to brutalize others, as in the destruction of their habitat, hunting, meat production, etc, is the fact that people conflate their desire with need because of an innate narcissism.

9/24/2009 11:30:04 AM

Thank you for this article. We need to be reminded of the millions of forgotten victims of environmental destruction. In my home town, a road was built through a wetlands as a way to accommodate housing developments. This past week we've had unusually wet and warm weather so the road was used by hundreds of snakes and frogs to cross from one side of the wetlands to the other. The first night volunteers counted and photographed over 300 frogs, of many varieties, that had been killed by the traffic on the road. After lodging a complaint with the City, the road was closed with "only local traffic" allowed. People still used the road, many of the users not local, and of course, hundreds more snakes and frogs were killed. We have no idea, none at all, of the consequences of our actions. It is sobering to think of the extent to which we lead our lives, unconscious of the deaths that lay in our wake.

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