It’s only 6:45 a.m. and photographer Joel Sartore is already soaked to the bone, as if he’d just jumped into the water. »
On a damp September morning, he lies on the floor of a barnyard, his lens focused on ungulates at the Arabian Wildlife Center in the United Arab Emirates, including a black-tailed wildebeest. Here, autumn temperatures can reach 42°C, the heat so intense that three of the four lamps used to light his facilities have failed, he explains.
It took more to excite Joel Sartore. Two weeks later, he added more than 200 new species from North Africa and the Middle East to National Geographic’s Photographic Ark, which aims to bring together portraits of 15,000 species found in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries around the world.
He has photographed majestic animals such as the Oman eagle owl, the Saharan cheetah, the sand gazelle or the endangered Arabian leopard, all housed at the Arabian Wildlife Centre, a structure that is both a sanctuary and a nature reserve.
For Joel Sartore, The Photographic Ark is “a long-term publicity campaign for nature,” especially the 35,500 animal and plant species that are on the verge of extinction forever. “We need to support the debate and make it a priority so that people wake up in time and save the planet,” he said. Dozens of species disappear every day, often due to human-caused events such as habitat destruction, pollution and climate change.
During his time in the Middle East, Sartore crossed the 12,000 cash mark. Not knowing exactly which animal was the 12,000th, he chose the Arabian cobra (Naja Arabica) to symbolize this milestone, as there were no reptiles in the Photographic Ark yet. In February, a photographer honored a moth from the US Southwest, Dichagiris longhidenslike the 11,000th species in the Photographic Ark.
Scientists know little about the cobra Naja Arabica. The common species, although rare, is found throughout the Arabian Peninsula, especially in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. Until 2009, scientists believed that Naja Arabica was a subspecies of the Egyptian cobra.
Like most cobras, Naja Arabica unfolds his headdress, an extension of the skin also called a “hood”, as a warning, a behavior that Sartore may have witnessed during his photo shoot. To photograph this venomous animal, he moved further away from the subject, using a longer focal length and trying to work quickly.
As a lifelong photographer of wildlife, Sartore is comfortable with most species, but he never compromises on safety. “It’s best to avoid being bitten,” he says of the cobra, which inflicts fatal bites every year in the Middle East.
The photographer is about to switch roles to be in front of the camera on November 16, when the Arabian cobra will be officially declared the 12,000th species in the photographic ark.
“I’m going to win an Emmy for the most shackled actor on set,” jokes Sartore, “but for a good reason: we’re introducing the world to animals it never knew existed.” »
Hiding snakes living in the low-density wild “can be very difficult to study,” says Philip Bowles, coordinator of the Red List of Lizards and Snakes, the IUCN committee responsible for monitoring the condition. reptile populations around the world to determine their conservation status.
Naja Arabica averaging 1.20m long and coffee-colored, it lives in semi-arid rocky areas with access to a fresh water source and likely feeds on rodents and small birds, continues Bowles, also co-author of an IUCN report published in 2012. on the reptiles of the Arabian Peninsula.
Although he understands that the Arabian cobra is the 12,000th species, he regrets that another reptile was not chosen as the headliner this time. “There is nothing exceptional about this cobra,” explains Bowles. “I would not say that he is uninteresting, but this is not a priority. »
However, Bowles acknowledges that this cobra is an opportunity to raise awareness of the need for reptile conservation. To date, we have identified 11,000 reptile species and almost 20% of them are endangered. For example, the green water dragon native to China and Southeast Asia has been severely affected by widespread habitat loss and the pet trade, making it a vulnerable species today.