It was only 6:45 am, noted photographer Joel Sartore, and yet his clothes were soaked to the skin, like “I had been thrown into a swimming pool.”
On that muggy September morning, he was lying on the floor of a farmyard, photographing ungulates such as white-bearded wildebeest at Arabia’s Wildlife Center in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Fall temperatures here can reach 109 degrees Fahrenheit, so hot, he says, that three of the four lamps he uses to light his photographic subjects have stopped working.
But setbacks weren’t a sweat for Sartore. Over the next two weeks, he added more than 200 new species native to North Africa and the Middle East to National Geographic’s Photo Ark, which aims to document 15,000 species living in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries around the world. whole.
He has documented such striking animals as the Arabian eagle owl, the Northwest African cheetah, the Arabian sand gazelle and the critically endangered Arabian leopard, all housed in Arabia’s Wildlife Center, a sanctuary and a nature reserve. (Find out why Sartore founded Photo Ark 15 years ago.)
Sartore describes Photo Ark as “a long-term advertising campaign in the name of nature”, in particular the 35,500 plant and animal species that are on the verge of extinction forever. “We have to keep these issues alive and in mind to get the public to wake up in time to save the planet,” he says. Dozens of species are disappearing every day, mainly due to human-influenced causes such as habitat destruction, pollution and climate change.
While in the Middle East, Sartore crossed the threshold of the 12,000th species. While not sure which animal the 12,000th was exactly, he chose the Arabian cobra to represent the milestone because a reptile has never been in the limelight of Photo Ark. The 11,000th species, announced in February, was the long-toothed darter moth of the southwestern United States.
Scientists don’t know much about the Arabian Cobra. A common but little observed species, it is found throughout the Arabian Peninsula, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman. Until 2009, scientists believed that the Arabian cobra was a subspecies of the Egyptian cobra.
Like most cobras, the Arabian Cobra lifts its hood – a loose flap of skin behind its head – as a warning, something Sartore experienced during his photoshoot. While photographing the poisonous animal, he stayed further away from his subject than usual, used a longer camera lens, and worked quickly.
After a lifetime of photographing wildlife, Sartore is comfortable with most species, but safety is of the utmost importance. “You wouldn’t want to get bitten,” he says of the Arabian cobra, a species that causes deadly snakebites in the Middle East every year.
Sartore will switch roles and see himself on camera on November 16, when the Arabian Cobra is officially announced as the 12,000th Photo Ark species in ABC’s daytime drama. General hospital.
“I’m going to get an Emmy for most of the wooden performances,” Sartore quipped, “but it’s for a good cause: we present to the world animals they never knew existed.” (Go behind the scenes of Photo Ark.)
The heat is on
Because snakes are excellent hiders and occur at low densities in nature, they “can be very difficult subjects of study,” says Philip Bowles, coordinator of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. in the world and determines their state of conservation.
The four-foot-long, coffee-colored snake lives in rocky, semi-arid areas with access to fresh water, and likely eats small rodents and birds, says Bowles, who was a co-author of a report. 2012 IUCN Review on Saudi Peninsula Reptiles.
Although he says he understands that the Arabian cobra is the 12,000th species, he laments that another reptile was not selected as the poster species this time around. “There is nothing exceptional about [this cobra]Says Bowles. “I don’t want to think of it as boring, but it’s not a priority.”
Nonetheless, Bowles says the cobra is an opportunity to educate the public on the need to conserve reptiles. There are around 11,000 known species and almost one in five is threatened with extinction. For example, the Chinese water dragon, found in China and Southeast Asia, has been severely affected by widespread habitat loss and the pet trade, making it vulnerable to extinction.
Extreme temperatures, like the ones Sartore experienced, can also put reptiles at greater risk, which are cold-blooded and must avoid long exposures to hot environments, Bowles says. Average temperatures on the Arabian Peninsula are increasing by more than 1 degree Fahrenheit each decade due to climate change, while precipitation is decreasing overall.
While there is a lack of studies on how oppressive heat could impact snakes, Bowles says some predictions suggest that rising temperatures could prevent lizards – which are easier to study than snakes – to venture into the heat, and thus limit the opportunities for them to find food. . This is probably also the case with some snakes, he says.
End in sight
Sartore, who is 59, aims to achieve his goal of cataloging 15,000 species in 10 to 15 years.
It is already planning round-trip trips to biodiversity hotspots like Southeast Asia, New Guinea, Singapore and the Mongolian steppe. (Discover la güiña, the mysterious cat who marked Sartore’s 10,000th photo.)
“My result is this: give your full measure of dedication to a cause in which you deeply believe,” says Sartore. “If that’s not the very definition of a life well lived, it should be.”
The National Geographic Society, committed to illuminating and protecting the wonders of our world, funded the work of explorer Joel Sartore. Learn more about the Society’s support for explorers highlighting and protecting critical species.