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Scientists estimate that at least 100 species go extinct each day. You never know what might be next.
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Posted January 5, 2012
Introduction
The Great American Zoo Trip
Project: Biodiversity

For many of Earth’s creatures time is running out. There are simply too many humans now, more than seven billion. All of us consume resources and space. Wildlife just can’t compete.

The concept behind the Biodiversity Project is simple: to show what’s at stake in terms of species loss and to get people to care while there’s still time.

(From top:) Lady beetle: wild-caught near Walton, Nebraska; African lion: Omaha Zoo; Two-toed sloth: Lincoln Children’s Zoo; Panda: Zoo Atlanta

In zoos, in private collections, and in the field with biologists around the world, I’m trying to photograph as many species as I can by using a portable studio with black and white backgrounds. I’ve been at this quite a while now and have captured nearly 1,800 in the past five years. That’s not nearly enough, but it’s a start. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be visiting several zoos over the next month, hoping to add at least 25 species to the project. The subjects will range from turtles to tigers and everything in between.

This black-and-white background technique gives all species equal weight and importance. A tiny beetle is as interesting as a lion, and a two-toed sloth as cuddly as a panda bear (see photos at left). The clean background, combined with nice light, allows the viewer to look every species in the eye, the window to the soul. I hope these portraits will connect with viewers and get them to understand that all creatures have at least a consciousness as well as a basic right to exist.

Experts say that half the world’s plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction. My job is to get you to look at them in a new way, to understand that all of this complexity and beauty has been shaped by millions of years of evolution. It would be a crime to doom even one of these species to extinction. It may also threaten our very existence. It is folly to think that we can doom everything else to extinction but that we’ll be just fine.

The time to do this is right now, while zoos still have a substantial “inventory.” Many animals simply don’t breed well in captivity, and so in the past we’ve been able to get replacements from the wild. For some species, we just can’t do that anymore. The captives are all that are left.

There’s no time to lose.

Read the first dispatchRead the most recent

Help Joel rename the Biodiversity Project

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