Work of Eagle Scout photographer featured on series of postage stamps

An image of photographer Joel Sartore
Eagle Scout photographer Joel Sartore inches his way toward a juvenile caiman in Bolivia's Madidi National Park. Copyright Joel Sartore

Joel Sartore, famed photographer, explorer, conservationist and Eagle Scout, is featured in a new batch of stamps from the U.S. Postal Service.

The Endangered Species Stamps collection marks the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act and features a portfolio of 20 different animals, all photographed by Sartore. They are Forever Stamps, which means they can be used to mail a one-ounce letter no matter when they’re purchased or used and regardless of whether stamp prices change in the future.

“When I was a child, many of the species on these stamps were on the very brink of extinction,” says Sartore in a USPS news release. “Thankfully today they’re on the road to recovery. Each serves as a reminder of the ESA’s importance, and as a tribute to the dedicated people who have worked so hard to save each and every one of them.”

The photos were taken as part of Sartore’s Photo Ark project for National Geographic, for which he has committed to taking pictures of every single animal species in the world’s zoos, aquariums and wildlife sanctuaries.

So far, Sartore has photographed 14,000 of the estimated 20,000 species.

“For those of us who care deeply, the loss of even one of these species would be devastating,” says Sartore. “Besides being living works of art, we believe each has a basic right to exist.”

Photo courtesy of United States Postal Service

Spirit of an Eagle

Sartore’s subjects range from the familiar to the exceedingly rare, and many have never been professionally photographed before. Regardless of the species, he creates a stunning portrait that lets the animal’s natural beauty shine through. A tiny Madagascar tree frog perches on a human thumb. A pygmy slow loris casts a baleful look at the viewer. A 5-month-old mandrill covers its mouth as if it just let a bad word slip.

In a recent interview with the National Eagle Scout Association, Sartore says his parents and his time in Scouting helped nurture his interest in biodiversity and conservation.

“My parents cared about nature,” he says. “Being in Scouting was also a great way to experience and care about nature.”

For the Photo Ark, each portrait features a single species that fills the frame, standing out dramatically against a solid white or black background.

“There is no size comparison, so a minnow is every bit as important as a polar bear or an elephant,” Sartore says.

A photo of photographer Joel Sartore on the prairie.
Copyright Joel Sartore

A lifelong passion for conservation

The stamps showcase photographs of endangered animals found within the 50 states and American territories, as well as two North American species living near U.S. borders.

Some of them were taken in zoos accredited by The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which is committed to promoting species conservation and animal well-being.

For Sartore, conservation has been a lifelong passion.

In a 2019 interview with Scouting magazine writer Mark Ray, Sartore told the story of one experience in particular as a member of Troop 77 in Ralston, Nebraska, that opened his eyes. During a campout in a farm pasture, he and a fellow Scout used a seine to sample the aquatic life in a stream and found a large array of marine creatures.

“It was very exciting,” he says. “It was a hidden world.”

These days, Sartore spends about half his time on the road and about half his time at home, where he reviews species lists, co-authors captions for his photos and plans future trips.

“I work seven days a week on this project,” he says. “There’s always something to do.”

For his Eagle project in the 1970s, Sartore put up bird and squirrel houses in a city park. But the Photo Ark is perhaps his real Eagle project.

“It’s a big service project, all right, but I think it’s well worth spending my life on,” he says.

See more of Sartore’s remarkable photography in this NESA Eagle Spotlight.

About Aaron Derr 457 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.