Little Red Fox, Nebraska, 2010

This little red fox was as calm as can be as he sat for his portrait. This is because he was hand-raised by the staff of Nebraska Wildlife Rehab (NWR) in Omaha, a group that saves injured and orphaned wildlife, with the goal of releasing animals back into nature.

This fox came in as part of a litter that was orphaned when the mother was caught in a leghold trap near her den (out of season by the way.) A farmer killed her and then realized the kits were nearby in a den and called NWR for help. Sadly, this is a common scenario.

The kits were about four weeks old when they came into human care and were bottle fed until they could eat on their own. They were then gradually weaned onto a natural diet which includes raw meat, whole dead prey (rabbits and mice), acorns, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, including greens. Red foxes have a diet that is about 30% plant matter, so NWR does their best to expose them to seasonal foods that they need to recognize in the wild. When the kits were about six months old, they were soft released (put into a large, naturally vegetated pen) onto a private nature preserve in Washington County, NE.

After a few weeks, the pen was opened, and the kits came out into what would be their new home in the wild. NWR continued to leave food out for the foxes for about six weeks post-release and spotted them several times during that period of support, looking happy and healthy. Hopes are high that this fox and all of his litter mates have thrived ever since.

Location: Lincoln, Nebraska
Photograph Date: 2010
Medium: Chromogenic Print
Edition: 200
Available Sizes: 70cm to 150cm

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About the Photographer

Joel Sartore

Ponca City, Oklahoma, might not, at first glance, seem like a fertile breeding ground for a world-class photographer. But Joel Sartore, who was born there in 1962, believes it forced him to develop a good eye for stories in a place less visually loaded than a city like New York. After studying photography and journalism at the University of Nebraska, he worked at the Wichita Eagle before being hired by National Geographic magazine. His powerful, intimate photographs of endangered species—like the ivory-billed woodpecker, which he shot for the magazine in 2006—have garnered numerous awards. More importantly, they are Joel’s way of giving these creatures a voice and trying to capture people’s attention, and affections, so that they can be saved.

Q & A

You have written that you love photography because it stops time. Unpack that idea for us.

It’s the only thing I know that freezes time. That ability allows us to create iconic images that go beyond the original situation. If you look at the iconic images we know and love, if you were there at the time, you might not think that much of them. But because the photographer has seen something in a unique way, or captured a great moment, it lives on. Henri Cartier Bresson’s picture of a man leaping over a muddy puddle is a classic example. And you never know where that moment will come from.

Many of your photos are of endangered species. Why is that important to you?

We’re on track to lose half of all species by the turn of the century. I don’t think that can happen without it having dire consequences for humanity. If you want to think of it selfishly, we need bees and all sorts of insects to produce fruits and vegetables; we need intact rain forests to regulate our climate and provide rainfall in places where we grow crops. It’s critical for people to realize that we’re all connected. The plight of endangered species is such a life-and-death drama that it’s my best hope to get the public to sit up and finally pay attention to what’s happening to the natural world.

A still photograph is very powerful. It has the ability to change culture. We’ve seen that many times, whether it’s turning public opinion against a war or aiding in alleviating suffering due to poverty. If an animal is extremely attractive and the public loves it, it’s more likely to be saved, thanks largely to photographs. Look at the giant panda. That animal is beloved in China and the rest of the world, and its population is stable due to heroic efforts to breed it back from the brink of extinction. The visuals matter to people.

National Geographic Image Collection Interview With Joel Sartore By Simon Worrall

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