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On the Brink: Animals Fighting for Survival

Photography by Joel Sartore | Captions by Della Watson

Images can fool us. With a few clicks, this photograph of an ancient loggerhead turtle can appear on any computer screen in the world. From our tech-aided vantage point, it's easy to be lulled into the thinking that this threatened sea turtle is common, ubiquitous, safe. Nothing could be further from the truth. All the animals featured in this slide show are among the last of their kind. They eke out a precarious existence, teetering on the edge of oblivion.

The loggerhead sea turtle, whose migration routes can span entire oceans, faces the loss of its nesting beaches and entanglement in shrimp trawling nets. The loggerhead is one of dozens of species featured in Joel Sartore's book Rare: Portraits of America's Endangered Species.

To capture these shots, Sartore traveled around the United States, visiting zoos, captive breeding programs, and conservation centers—the last safe havens for many of these animals. He set up makeshift photo studios on location, working with handlers and keepers to ensure that stress on the subjects was minimal. With Rare's stark, intimate shots, the photojournalist hopes "to show that there is beauty, grace, and value in every species."

When people care, there is hope. Many loggerhead nesting sites have been protected thanks to conservation efforts, and commercial fishing operations are experimenting with methods to reduce accidental bycatch. The Endangered Species Act has saved some animals from extinction; for others, it has enabled a slow comeback. Yet this lifesaving legal protection continues to face political attacks. Sartore's photographs remind us that if we do not protect rare species, we'll be left with only frozen mementos of the beautiful creatures we allowed to slip away. (Photographed at the Riverbanks Zoo, Columbia, South Carolina.)


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