The NAT (Photo: Lockley/Wikimedia Commons)

If you care about the world’s dazzling biodiversity—and if you’re concerned about the threats it faces at the hands of humankind—you should make haste to the San Diego Natural History Museum this winter and spring.

The NAT has the proud distinction of being the first institution outside the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C. to present some of the fruits of wildlife photographer Joel Sartore’s Photo Ark project, which puts the sheer beauty and variety of the planet’s creatures front and center.

An Ambitious Undertaking

In Photo Ark, Sartore and National Geographic are attempting to catalog every animal species in captivity: some 12,000 worth of them. We’re talking everything from bugs to big cats, many of them endangered or threatened in the wild.

“Every year I see more habitat loss, more species consumed for food, medicine or simply decoration,” Sartore says about the initiative. “The Photo Ark was born out of desperation to halt, or at least slow, the loss of global biodiversity.”

The traveling Photo Ark exhibit, which the NAT is presenting through April 30, shows off about 30 of Sartore’s striking animal portraits. The photographer, who’s traveled the world for decades capturing images of wildlife and wild landscapes, has already documented roughly 6,000 species so far—in other words, he’s about halfway through his goal.

Lock Eyes With Other Species

To psych yourself up for a visit to the NAT’s Photo Ark installation, have a gander at some of Sartore’s photos right here: From Andean condors to ribboned seadragons to Malayan tigers, there are some jaw-droppingly gorgeous faces on display here—and they’re even more impressive when you eyeball them up close.

Other NAT Wonders

On top of Photo Ark, the NAT has a fascinating lineup of other exhibitions on display right here, including Skulls—which shows off close to 200 of the museum’s animal skulls, from snakes and lizards to bighorn sheep and rhinos—and Water: A California Story, which considers the liquid lifeblood of the Golden State from mountain streams to Pacific brine. And the permanent exhibitions are equally impressive: Coast to Cactus in Southern California, for example, offers a wonderful look at our own backyard ecosystems and their native plants and animals.

Take in Photo Ark on Your Next Visit to the Sofia

The San Diego Natural History Museum is one of the linchpins of Balboa Park’s educational and interpretive offerings, all lying an easy drive or trolley ride away from the Sofia Hotel here in downtown San Diego. Don’t miss Photo Ark—and give yourself enough time to browse the rest of the NAT as well!