Forgotten Victims of Environmental Destruction

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image by Joel Sartore /

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?”

Excerpted from Audubon (May-June 2009), an environmental magazine that vividly connects its readers with the beauty and diversity of the natural world. Copyright © 2009 the National Audubon Society.

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