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April 3, 2013 at 8:33 PM

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Northwest Wanderings: Captive audience for ambitious photography project


He's been chased in the wild by grizzlies, elephants, musk oxen and polar bears. And he survived by standing his ground, driving off or getting just plain lucky.

Now, National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore is eight years into a 20-year project to photograph one of every species in captivity around the globe.

At the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Sartore is eye-to-eye with Yukon, a Canada lynx.

ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES

National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore gets eye-to-eye with Yukon, a Canada lynx at the Point Defiance Zoo, as he adds to his project to photograph one of every species in captivity around the world. Sartore is eight years into his 20-year quest. The lynx is 2,860 on his list of 6,000, which he calls The Photo Ark.

He's photographing the cat on a white background. It's 2,860 out of 6,000 on his list, called The Photo Ark.

Each animal is isolated on a white or black background to "make a mouse as interesting and worth saving as an elephant. It "isolates and equalizes. There's no size perspective on these backgrounds," he said.

During the project, many of the species will go extinct in the wild.

The Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit and the Rabbs' fringed-limbed tree frog already are gone forever.

His is "an education and conservation project" he leads from his home in Lincoln, Neb., traveling half the year.

Sartore, 50, says "loss of habitat in most cases -- coastline, woods, prairie and marshes -- drives animals to extinction."

He believes zoos likely will be the only places where many species will survive.

Besides being a photographic record, The Photo Ark is about "supporting your local zoo," Sartore says. "They are the keepers of the kingdom."

ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES

National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore checks on one of the images he's made on the white seamless background of Yukon, the Canada lynx at the Point Defiance Zoo.

ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES

National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore zeroes in on Granite, a gopher snake at the Point Defiance Zoo. Every species he photographs in captivity is on a white or black background to emphasize the importance of every one.

ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES

The gopher snake is said to be popular with farmers because it eats rodents living in barns. The snake also likes small lizards, small rabbits and the occasional bird. A good climber, they will go into nests to eat bird's eggs. They're one of the most common snakes in the west.

For more photos, visit the gallery.

For more Northwest Wanderings, visit our previous post.

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