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The Final Episode of ‘Rare’ Offers More Insight Into Endangered Species
July 31, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

National Geographic’s Joel Sartore has photographed thousands of birds, animals, insect, fish, and other wildlife over the last quarter century.

For a disturbing number of those species, Sartore’s photographs may soon be all we have left.

Rare, a three-part PBS special on Sartore’s long effort to create what he cleverly and wistfully calls a Photo Ark, wraps up Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings) with Sartore’s journey to photograph, among several others, the Rowi Kiwi in New Zealand and the Northern White Rhino in Prague.

The Northern White Rhino (left) isn’t a native of Czechoslovakia. The Prague Zoo just happens to be the residence for one of the three Northern White Rhinos still alive.

Two others are in their more native Kenya, protected by armed guards. It’s an appropriate gesture, and also quite likely a farewell gesture.

Northern White Rhinos have been literally driven to extinction by poachers, who kill them to cut off their horns. The horns are then ground to powder and sold to folks who believe rhino horns have magic healing powers.  

One of the wildlife experts in Rare points out the tiny flaw in that premise. A rhinoceros horn contains the same components you would find in a human fingernail.

Meaning you could get the same magic powers from simply biting your nails, which are not at risk of going extinct.

There’s a lot of that kind of frustration in Rare, whose first two episodes are available on the PBS website.

The animals here didn’t do anything wrong. Their turf was just invaded, often after thousands of relatively stable years, by new and more dangerous predators.


In a fascinating segment on the Rowi Kiwi (right), Sartore explains that New Zealand has a disproportionate number of unique bird species because for millions of years it included an island with no predators.

Birds ruled the place, and while birds are not always kind to each other, they developed means of coexistence. More than a dozen bird species, including the kiwi, became so comfortable they gradually stopped flying and became land animals.

That includes the fascinating Kakapo, a member of the parrot family with a face, that Sartore notes, is more like that of a mammal than a bird.

At 10 pounds, the Kakapo (below) is the largest known parrot. Sartore photographs the one that lives in a zoo in New Zealand, where it has become such an institution it has its own Twitter account.

Polly want a follower.

As recently as 40 years ago, there were only 18 Kakapos left in the world. Today there are 154, which is barely enough to have a noun of collection but is at least moving in the right direction.

The good guy in that tentatively hopeful story is New Zealand, which cleared another island of predators and thus made it a safe haven for stashing endangered birds.

Sartore spends some time explaining the Photo Ark project, and how time-consuming it can be to hunt down rare and reclusive creatures. He doesn’t talk about the difficulty of doing photo shoots with these subjects, but we see him at work, and we see the results, and clearly, he’s got it figured out.

His cardinal rule, he says, is that his subjects must be looking at the camera. We can’t love them unless we can see their eyes, he explains, and unless we love them, we won’t have the will to save them.

Endangered species is a subject that’s inherently frustrating, pessimistic, and haunted by a dark cloud. Rare finds some rays of sunshine.

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My question about the Rowi kiwi. Why are they traumatizing the Rowi (taking it's eggs, ETC) when they should be traumatizing it's non-native, invasive predators??
Aug 2, 2017   |  Reply
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