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Denver Zoo animals to be featured in National Geographic photo project

Joe Sartore travels the world for National Geographic. This week, he was in Denver, snapping photos of huge mammals and tiny crabs, all in the name of conservation.

DENVER — After two weeks snapping photos in Japan and Kazakhstan, National Geographic photographer Joe Sartore stayed closer to home for his next assignment. 

The Nebraska native skipped over to the Denver Zoo to add new animals to his 30-year project, the National Geographic Photo Ark

"This is a photographer's desperate attempt to use the back end of his life to make a difference," Sartore said.

Seventeen years into his career with Nat Geo, Sartore said, only two of his stories had moved the needle of conservation. So he changed styles. Instead of wildlife photography in jungles, savannahs and deserts, he'd shoot portraits at zoos. 

"It's the eye contact that motivates people," he said. "We're primates. The eye contact motivates people to want to care."

Each animal is photographed on a black and a white background, and the subjects all end up the same size on the printed page. 

"There's no size comparison, no distractions, so the mouse is every bit as big and important as an elephant," he said.

Sartore's subjects at the zoo included a hippo on black, a viper on white, a little crab and a goby fish. 

He's shot photos of more than 15,000 species, and has at least 10,000 more to go before the project is finished.

"I have a database that's a mile long," he said. 

Before you think the Photo Ark is about documenting the world's species before they're gone, Sartore wants you to know this is a conservation project. He says we can still save these animals. And we need to save them, Sartore says, because if we can't save them we can't save ourselves. 

"When these animals can't survive, we can't either," he said. "This is our chance to get to know biodiversity, figure out what it looks like, and above all be motivated to care to save them." 

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