Captive Portraits

IN THE TRIBUTARY OF AMATEUR PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY, the photos below, taken at the San Diego Zoo, aim to capture the humanity of the individuals captured. These creatures are cropped in captivity–their faces cropped by the lens. Their faces bear similarity to one another–and yet uphold uniqueness. The various animal species originate from around the globe–yet these specific specimens all live within an area of 200 acres (a truly global village!). Though I like seeing a plethora of animals condensed into a miniature man-made global village (which you can visit for a fee), I don’t like the idea of an Earth in which we can only zoom in on such creatures in zoos. To face the facts: If humankind doesn’t watch where it is stomping footprints, we might find ourselves in the near future to have fatally stepped on the interconnected diversity of life on Earth.

Featured creatures:

The harmless Rhinoceros Beetle is one of the world’s largest beetles, growing up to 6 inches in length.

Kaiser’s Spotted Newt is endemic to only four streams in Iran’s Zagros Mountains. It is Endangered due to habitat loss and illegal pet trade.

The only venomous lizard native to North America, the Gila Monster, has an unreasonable reputation as a fearsome creature. Realistically it is a docile reptile whose poison is not fatal to adult humans.

The largest tortoise in the world, the Galápagos tortoise, can weigh near half a ton! The reptile is currently classified as Vulnerable, though many successful breeding programs have increased their population.

Horny Toads are not toads but lizards. Some species squirt blood from the corners of their eyes as a defense mechanism. Population has been observed to be declining in their native habitat of the Southwestern United States.

Critically endangered and endemic to eastern China, there are (according to wikipedia) fewer than 12o Chinese Alligators in the wild, their population decimated by habitat loss and pesticide and fertilizer use. However, around 10,000 currently exist in captivity.

With such a long smile, Gharial Crocodile boast 110 teeth. However, their numerous teeth are not preventing their estimated population of around 200 from being Critically Endangered in their native Northern India.

And yet…

Like many species, Rattlesnakes yawn too!

The all-seeing eye of the Emerald Tree Boa, ever-watchful,

The Splendid Tree Frog doesn’t need Splenda,

And the Tomato Frog is not exactly a Heinz 57.

Upon this Cock of the Rock

 The Meerkat shall inherit the Earth

With the Rock (and Roll!) Hyrax

Plus one of seven Dwarf Mongoose.


The Koala is Vulnerable due to human poaching and habitat destruction in its native Australia.

The South American Llama is sheared like a sheep.

The tallest terrestrial animal (up to 18 feet!), the Giraffe, is Vulnerable.

The Takin, a goat-antelope of the eastern Himalayas, is Vulnerable.

The Capybara, being the largest rodent in the world, makes a great pet, though unfortunately is illegal as such in California.

Believe it or not: Elephants are related to the Rock Hyrax!

So cute and yet the Pygmy Hippo is Endangered due to poaching and habitat destruction.

Though the Grizzly Bear is California’s mascot, it is recently extinct in the region due to human poaching.

However, China’s mascot, the Panda, still exists, though Vulnerable.

And although the Cheetah can run up to 75 mph, it hasn’t outrun its Vulnerable status.

The Greater One Horned Rhino, or Indian Rhino, is back from the brink of extinction but still Vulnerable. Many of its other Rhino relatives are fairing less well, with black market trade decimating populations in South East Asia and Africa.

With all the portraits above and captions below, what are the real problems?

Why is it that, according to the 45th U.S. President, being like “animals” represents a problem?

Earth, or The Earthly Paradise / 1607-8 / Jan Brueghel the Elder / oil on copper / collection of the Louvre