Sequel to Noah’s Ark at Bruce Museum
By Arthur Stampleman
“National Geographic Photo Ark” is a new traveling exhibit at the Bruce Museum that is here until September 2nd. It displays more than 50 beautiful and fascinating studio portraits. When we think “studio portraits”, we think paintings and people. These are neither. They are photographs of animals, and will be of interest to visitors who appreciate good photography, like animals, and support conservation.
“These images are by turns breathtaking, amusing, and poignant,” says Dr. Daniel Ksepka, Curator of Science at the museum.
It is a project by the National Geographic Society committed to documenting every species in the world’s zoos and wildlife sanctuaries — inspiring people to care and help protect these animals for future generations.
The photographs are by Joel Sartore who aims at documenting every species in captivity. He has photographed 8,000 species to date and estimates the completed Photo Ark will include portraits of over 12,000 species. At completion, it will be the largest single archive of studio-quality photographs of biodiversity ever. Sartore has visited 40 countries in his quest to create this archive.
The focus of the exhibit’s first section is the documentation of the conservation status of animals. Each portrait in the exhibition lists the creature’s status, mainly as determined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization. Seven categories are shown, from “Least Concern” to “Extinct”.
Some examples of “Least Concern” species are the Arctic fox and blue waxbills at the start of the exhibition. They have stable populations and are not expected to become endangered in the near term. The IUCN updates the status of species as the situation changes. A good example of a species whose status has become more urgent is the white-fronted lemur that went rapidly from Least Concern (1996) to Vulnerable (2008) to Endangered (2017). In only 24 years, the population has been cut in half by illegal hunting, habitat destruction, and interbreeding with related species.
“How many species face extinction today?” is the focus of the second section. Currently, the IUCN lists 22,000 species as being threatened with extinction. However, many species have not been evaluated, and many have not even been named by scientists. In some cases, a species may be “functionally extinct”, meaning although individuals are still alive there is not enough genetic diversity to keep the species going. In other cases, a species may go extinct in the wild but still remain in zoos or aquariums.
A very sad case is the Northern white rhino. This species is past the point of no return. Only two individuals are left, and both are female, so there is no hope of keeping the species from going extinct.
The third section of the exhibit features photographs of species that are probably extinct. One example is Robb’s fringe-limbed tree frog. It was wiped out by a terrible infectious fungus that is decimating amphibian populations. This fungus has wiped out many species already and continues to spread. The Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit lived only in Washington state; the last one died in 2008.
A video of Sartore posing and photographing animals, stories covering species that experienced successful conservation efforts, and fun photos make up the rest of the exhibit.
There is a photo of a Mexican grey wolf. Almost every individual was wiped out by the 1970s, due to poisoning and trapping. A handful of survivors were captured, and thanks to captive breeding there are over 300 in zoos today and over 100 have been released into the wild to re-establish the species. Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport is one of the partners of the breeding program.
There is one image showing several oblong-winged katydids, each a different color. The species has a variety of colors due to a genetic condition called erythrism. In erythrism, a gene causes an animal to have either an excess of a pigment or to lack a pigment, giving it a strong color difference from individuals without the gene.
The Bruce Museum in Greenwich is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 to 5. A range of educational programs and activities are planned. For information, contact 203-869-0376 or go to www.brucemuseum.org.
|An endangered baby Bornean orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus, named Aurora, with her adoptive mother, Cheyenne, a Bornean/Sumatran cross, Pongo pygmaeus x abelii, at the Houston Zoo.
© Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark