Joel has been on a 20-year personal mission to photograph the world's most endangered species. His new book, RARE, presents a multi-year project documenting Earth's vanishing biodiversity. The photographs, needless to say, are exquisite.
The first animal featured, Bryn the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit, died while Joel was working on the book. She was one of the last two of her species. Shortly afterward, the last of the breed died as well, and the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit went extinct:
Bryn the pygmy rabbit died in 2008, marking the end of her genetic line. This subpopulation lost its sagebrush habitat as the land was developed for agriculture. Key features of Bryn's genetic material survive in hybrid pygmy rabbits; a breeding and reintroduction program holds out hope for her kind.
In an off-exhibit room at the Oregon Zoo, the staff was quiet, even reverent, as they brought in Bryn. She was one of two Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits left, and since both were old females, this was a solemn occasion.
A keeper placed her gently on my black velvet background, and i began to take photos. I stopped to watch her from time to time, but she didn't move much. She wasn't even scared. Nearly blind, missing half an ear, and with fur falling out onto the cloth, she seemed to have already given up.
The whole experience left me morose and extremely disappointed. We'd done it again, this time by converting sage habitat to agriculture in western Washington. Our photo session was one of the last chances Bryn had to be noticed. She died a few months later, and then Raphaela, the last of the breed, died as well. The Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit is now extinct, a passenger pigeon for the 21st century.
Don't miss this one (particularly the behind the scenes "making of" video clip!)
P.S. Joel and National Geographic are kind enough to provide 3 copies of RARE, which we will send to commenters with the best comments on the Spotlight post. Visit the RARE Post on Spotlight to leave your comment: Link