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Behind the Scenes with Joel Sartore

May 27, 2013

Joel Sartore is the National Geographic Magazine photographer that was assigned to cover the story “The Rebirth of Gorongosa” by E.O. Wilson in the June edition of the magazine. We got a chance to talk to him about his trip to Gorongosa to photograph the story.


Photo: Joel Sartore (©Joel Sartore/


Q: What was your impression Gorongosa when you first arrived?

Quite impressive. We saw plenty of game. What impressed me most was the fact that Greg Carr and his team there have helped restore much of that game, and the park’s former glory.


Q: What were some of the biggest challenges of your shoot?

Making sure that we did the place justice! It’s so vast. You could work for years there and not see the whole place.


Q: What was your most memorable moment on the shoot?

Drifting in a helicopter over crocodiles as they sunbathed along the rivers.


Q:  How was working with E.O. Wilson?

He is a genius. And a gentleman. And tries every day to make the world a better place. Just a world-class individual. Greg Carr is very much in the same category, by the way.


Q: Which photo that you captured required the most “luck”?

Some of the weather we had, like morning fog, really made the park look magical from the air. We also had a great turn out for with the local communities for our time on the mountain. The latter wasn’t luck as much as it was the good relations that exist between the park staff and local residents.


Q: Which photo required the most time and effort to capture?

My studio-style portraits took a lot of effort to get, but we feel they were well worth it in order to showcase the dazzling array of smaller creatures that live in the park.  There’s a whole world under our feet and up in the treetops that we never see. Those portraits really gave the visual side of the story more depth, which increased our page count.


Q: How would you describe the Mount Gorongosa rainforest the moment you first entered it?

Well, I was saddened to see that some of it had been cut for slash and burn agriculture over the years. The Gorongosa team is working hard to not only slow the logging, but also to replant trees with the help from local residents. That’s a huge step because it allows area residents the opportunity to work, to give back, and especially envision the value of leaving remaining forest intact. The forest that remained was lovely though, and full of bird song.


Q: What do you think the future holds for Mount Gorongosa?

I think it really depends on how much human pressure remains there. If the human population continues to grow at 4-5% annually like many other parts of East Africa, then things could become seriously degraded. Time will tell.


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