Ann and Don Butler recently returned from Washington, D.C. where they not only visited the Photo Ark Exhibition at the National Geographic headquarters but were made a part of the presentation by Geographic photographer Joel Sartore, the creator of the Photo Ark project.
Sartore came to Clinton in the summer of 2014 to photograph the Butlers’ collection of rare pheasant for inclusion in the project, and the couple said they were honored to be invited to see the exhibition in the nation’s capitol.
According to Don Butler, the couple have kept in contact with Sartore since his visit to their Sampson home.
National Geographic officially opened the Photo Ark Exhibition at their headquarters in Washington on Nov. 4, 2015 and Sartore invited the Butlers to the grand opening of the Photo Ark Exhibition and to attend a special reception for people and organizations who had contributed in some way to the project.
“At the reception Joel spoke passionately about his project, the 250 photo shooting locations he has been to around the world and about the special people who had helped make the project a reality. It was a great honor for us to be invited to this event and to be included among those he recognized as being important contributors,” Don Butler noted.
“We wholeheartedly believe in the goals and objectives of the Photo Ark project and are happy to call Joel Sartore our friend. I hope that everyone who reads this article will take the time to visit the National Geographic website to learn more about the Photo Ark project. The Photo Ark Exhibition is open daily through April 2106 at the National Geographic Museum located at 1145 17th Street, NW in Washington DC.
About Photo Ark
According to the project website, Photo Ark is a multiyear National Geographic project with a simple goal — to create portraits of the world’s captive species before they disappear, and to inspire people everywhere to care.
Currently the Photo Ark collection includes more than 5,000 species — but Sartore isn’t done. His goal is to document the world’s 12,000 captive species with the studio lighting and black and white backgrounds that give the collection its iconic look. The hope? To inspire millions around the world with the message that it’s not too late to save some of the planet’s most endangered species.
Below is a Q&A with the Butlers about the DC exhibition, Sartore and Photo Ark.
Q. How did you become involved with Joel Sartore and Photo Ark?
A. Joel contacted me after hearing about our work with rare, threatened and endangered Pheasants. I have been working with rare Pheasants for nearly 30 years and my wife Ann has shared my passion since we got married in 1995 and we have focused our attention on the birds who need the most help to survive as a species. Most people don’t know that there are more than 50 species of Pheasants and nearly half of these species are in trouble in the wild. Joel heard about me from my good friend Mike Lubbock who runs Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park in Scotland Neck, NC. Mike is the foremost waterfowl expert in the world and Sylvan Heights Bird Park is home to the world’s most extensive and important collection of wild waterfowl (nearly 200 species). Joel has spent a lot of time there photographing waterfowl for Photo Ark and most of the waterfowl photographs in the Ark were taken in Scotland Neck, N.C.
Q:Why did he come to Clinton to see you and Ann?
A. Our aviary, which we call “Pheasant Heaven”, holds one of the most extensive collections of rare Pheasants in the US and Joel could get a lot of shots of these rare birds in one location. He knew that Ann and I have been working with these birds for a long time and we could help him get the shots he needed for Photo Ark. He came to Clinton in the Summer of 2014 and spent an entire day photographing our birds.
Q.What was it like to watch him work?
A. It was amazing. Ann and I both are avid photographers and animal lovers. We were familiar with Joel’s 30 year career as a photographer for National Geographic and had purchased and learned a lot from one of his photography courses (Fundamentals of Photography) which is one of “The Great Courses” advertised in the magazine. He and his family spent two nights and one day at our home and aviary and it was a great thrill to spend time with him and watch him do his thing. We didn’t just watch, we had to catch each bird and help him set up the shots. Along the way he shared many experiences from his 30 years with National Geographic. We also were able to learn a lot of photography techniques by watching him work. His photo shoots are intense and involve a lot of hard work but it was also great fun.
Q.Why your birds?
A. Joel was able to see birds at our place that he could not find anywhere else in the United States, at least not as many rare Pheasants in any one place. We have more rare Pheasants at Pheasant Heaven than can be found at any zoo in America. He was able to photograph eighteen species of Pheasants at one stop.
Q. Are your birds part of the Photo Ark project?
A. Yes, I am very happy and proud to say that photos of many of our birds are part of the Photo Ark project. We traveled to Washington DC on November 4th for the grand opening of the Photo Ark Exhibition at the National Geographic Museum. Joel greeted us as we arrived and told me that he had a surprise for me. He said “ you guys are going to be part of the program tonight”. More about that later.
Q. Why is that important?
A. Photo Ark is one of the most, if not THE most, important project ever undertaken to raise awareness globally about the plight of endangered animals and raising awareness is the first step in doing something about it. While I feel we can do something important at Pheasant Heaven to help endangered Pheasants Joel is letting the rest of the world know that we could lose half the world’s wild animal species by 2100 if nothing is done to change the current trends of habitat loss. He is doing something about it and Ann and I are glad to be a part of that effort.
Q. Is your work with pheasants making a difference?
A. Yes. One of the Pheasant species we work with is the Edwards Pheasant which is native to North Vietnam. The Vietnam war wiped out most of its habitat and it has not been seen in the wild since the 1980s. It may be extinct in the wild now. We have focused a lot of effort in the last few years to breed as many Edwards as possible. In the past two years we have raised over 80 of these critically endangered birds and we have sent them to zoos around the country who are now starting to work with them. I also have sent Edwards to trusted private breeders who know how to work with them. While we are a long way away from having enough Edwards to reintroduce back into the wild we can maintain the species in captivity if we play our cards right. They will not disappear in captivity in my lifetime if I can help it. Once they are gone, they’re gone forever.
Q. Tell us about the Washington trip and the Photo Ark Exhibition
A. Joel invited us to attend a private reception and the grand opening of the Photo Ark Exhibition at the National Geographic Museum in Washington on November 4, 2015 and it was a wonderful experience. The President and Chief Executive Officer of National Geographic started the program by telling the attendees how important Photo Ark is to National Geographic and that this project will be prominently featured in upcoming editions of the magazine. Photo Ark is projected to be a 20 year project and Joel believes he is about half way there.
Joel and his wife and two kids greeted us warmly when we arrived and told us that he had a surprise for us when he delivered his Photo Ark speech in the auditorium later in the evening. After the reception Joel gave an in-depth talk about Photo Ark and his passion for saving endangered species. He talked about his trips all over the world to capture photos of some of the rarest animals on earth, many of which had never been photographed before. He talked about the people and institutions who had helped him locate and photograph these critters. He talked about coming to North Carolina and photographing near extinct waterfowl species at Sylvan Heights and he talked about coming to Clinton to visit us and photograph rare Pheasants. As he gave his talk he showed a lot of slides from his travels, including shots of Ann and me taking care of a sick bird at our place.
Although we have been working for many years to save endangered Pheasants we never had any idea that we would have the opportunity to be a part of something as important as Photo Ark or meet one of the greatest photographers in the world. We are humbled and proud to help carry the message that now is the time for people all over the world to act to prevent half the world’s wild animal species from becoming extinct within the next century. Every animal, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, has a role to play in the delicate balance of nature. We need them all and we each have a responsibility to do our part to save them. When we save them we are saving ourselves.
Q. If people want to save endangered animals what can they do to help?
A. There are many ways to help. Support zoos and aquariums who educate children about nature and animals. Support organizations which are dedicated to preserving natural habitats. Tell elected officials and anyone who is running for office that preserving natural resources is critically important. Consume less stuff, drive a smaller car, use less energy, don’t waste anything, recycle, plant a tree, reserve a little part of your yard for small animals to have a home, put out bird feeders, plant things which provide food for animals. Teach kids about nature and the importance of animals. This stuff is not rocket science, just do common sense things to give wild animals a fighting chance.
You can support Joel Sartore and the Photo Ark project by going to this website and looking at the information there: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/10/zoos/sartore-video. If you go to this site and look at the content I believe you will agree with me that DOING NOTHING IS NOT AN OPTION!!