"Spirit Bear" by Paul Nicklen; "National Geographic: Greatest Wildlife Photographs" at National Geographic Museum
"Spirit Bear" by Paul Nicklen; National Geographic: Greatest Wildlife Photographs

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The Greatest Wildlife Photographs and Once Upon a Climb

As it reopens to the public for the first time in nearly two years, the National Geographic Museum has decided it won’t be venturing far from its wheelhouse. The twin exhibits chosen for the museum’s relaunch involve a pair of Nat Geo greatest hits: wildlife photography and mountaineering. The Greatest Wildlife Photographs is chock full of images of charismatic megafauna—including tigers, elephants, pandas, polar bears, narwhals, harp seals, and birds of paradise—each with their backstory appended in the wall captions. The images range from pensive (a strikingly human-like Japanese macaque) to dramatic (a lion eating a wildebeest in the Serengeti, and sandhill cranes congregating as lightning strikes above), to melancholy (a dying northern white rhino, the last individual of its subspecies). Befitting the National Geographic Society’s historical reach, the exhibit begins with primitive nighttime and underwater photographs from the early 20th century and continues with stunning video sequences, including one of penguins zooming out of the water and onto the ice. Visitors can even trigger a motion-sensitive “trap” camera, as if they were an animal sought by a National Geographic photographer. The other exhibit, Once Upon a Climb: Stories of Everest, offers adventure devotees maps, models, gear, and footage from past expeditions to scale Mount Everest. If there’s a subtext to both shows, it’s the threat that climate change poses to these gems of the natural world. The exhibits open Feb. 16 at National Geographic Museum, 1145 17th St. NW. nationalgeographic.org. Free through the end of February; $15 after.