Maps: A Tool For Understanding Wildlife

Oct 13, 2017

Credit USA.gov / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Somewhere in Zakouma National Park in Africa, a large female elephant and her calf are on the move. Annie, named by the research team that collared her, moves with determination and purpose through the savannah. Traveling long distances, Annie and her calf target areas with the best food, crossing roads at night to avoid poachers. 

The mother elephant was collared as part of research project in May, 2006. But by mid-August, she was dead. There was no doubt in the researcher’s minds. She had been poached.

Authors James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti tell her story, and the story of dozens of other species, in their new book “Where the Animals Go”. Oliver says it’s easy to see individuality in our pets, but that it’s much harder to see that same individuality in wild animals.

“This wasn’t lust a red line on a map I was creating, this was the life of an individual animal, this was Annie. And I thought how incredible and potentially impactful it could be if we shared more stories of the lives of individual animals with the public.”

All over the world, ecologists map animal movements to better understand animal behavior and guide management and conservation decisions. James says we are entering a period of mass extinction on our planet, and there are many challenges facing wildlife species and wildlife conservationists.

“There’s an urgency there to intervene where we know there are things like habitat loss affecting animals. And there is also a sense of urgency to better understand animals that we know nothing about. Because sometimes they surprise us, sometimes they might be a bit more resilient than we think. Sometimes they shock us because they are in a much more fragile position than we previously thought.”

Maps capture our imagination. For conservationists, they are a tool not only for understanding animal behavior, but for sharing the stories of individual animals and species with the public, a tool promoting conservation.