On the move: a visual story of animal tracking

Lab Reports, Timelines, Visualization
The title slide of the timeline

Humans have tracked animals for Millenia. For most of history animal migration routes have been recorded for hunting purposes, then for recreational viewing and touring, and more recently to aid environmental conservation. From primitive art and centuries of maps to modern science, humans have recorded how they view their surroundings and their relationship to animals. “On the move: A visual story of animal tracking,” seeks to answer how visualizations of animal movements and migrations have evolved over time and what technological advancements propelled that change.

Early people tracked the locations and patterns of animals to stay away from threats and to find prey. The Chauvet Cave drawings are a fascinating example of that. The exact purpose of the drawings is unknown, but the stag was an important enough part of their lives to be drawn on the wall. This first slide is not a map, but it shows the millenia old relationship between people and animal tracking. The Al-Idrisi map is one of the oldest and most accurate maps of the Mediterranean at the time. It is a beautiful stylized depiction of the known world and the fact that the South points up tells us how people viewed themselves in the world in the twelfth century. The Catalan Atlas is an even more ornately stylized map of the Mediterranean. In it we learn how images and icons were used to depict points of interest on maps. Cities that were regarded as more important were drawn larger than others to denote hierarchy instead of spatial accuracy. Charles Piquet’s Cholera map is interesting because it was an early example of information mapped to communicate an argument. Later, we see this tactic used to elicit compassion for animal conservation. The “Distribution of Sperm Whale” map was created from research of whaling data to understand the locations and migrations of the whale species. The data points are still used by the Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada. An interesting example of how hunting data was later used for conservation. 

The “Earthrise” slide creates a simple yet strong impact and in the middle of the timeline.

Everything changed when humans first saw Earth from far away. “Earthrise” is not a map or chart, but it is a strong visual of the Earth and not only added so much to cartography, but changed the way that people felt about environmental conservation. NASA was also involved with the creation of GPS. This technology revolutionized animal tracking and made it more precise and led to computerized visualizations. Migrations in Motion is a beautiful animated visualization that utilizes technology to tell a very human and natural story of how animals will be affected by climate change. Where the Wild Things Go shows how GPS locations are used to gather realtime locations of animals, improving conservation efforts of the African elephant populations. The Google and National Geographic Society partnership is an inspiring example of how big technology companies and conservation groups can utilize migration visualizations and work together to protect animal habitats.

“Migrations in Motion”

Timeline JS was used to create this project in addition to various online and text resources. The Google sheet template provided by Timeline JS was clear and user-friendly, if a bit lacking in flexibility. CSS color codes were used for styling the slide backgrounds, and I explored previous student work for inspiration. The provided “Milestones in the History of thematic cartography, statistical graphics, and data visualization” timeline was a primary tool to discover data and examples. My main method was one of trial and error and moving pieces around until I was satisfied with the visual impact. 

“Where the Animals Go” by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti was my primary inspiration for this project as well as a main data source. I was first introduced to this text through an article in Nautilus magazine in 2017 about Sea Turtle and Elephant migrations. The beautiful maps stayed with me and compelled the purchase of the book. Other research was conducted from prior knowledge and materials provided for class.

I wanted to emulate the feeling of a museum with ancient artifacts. Often the walls are dark, the room is cold, and the light highlights the objects. It felt appropriate for the cave slide and the NASA slides. From my peer review I unified the slides to improve the user experience. I had initially made the Catalan Atlas and Sperm Whale Distribution maps larger and the text underneath in the caption section, but my peer noted that it was difficult to read and detracted from the overall flow of the timeline.

The number line at the bottom of the timeline is crowded because of the Chauvet Cave dates, 30,000-28,000 BC. A better visual timeline would have had a break, so that all of the dates were more spaced out. However, it is a strong visual statement of the incredible age of the cave drawings. That was a recurring stumbling block during this project, what is more important: the story or the visualization? The initial goal was for the story to elicit an emotional reaction to animal conservation, but in the end it is simply a short historical explanation of a specific type of information visualization. 

Elephant migration routes visualized for habitat protection

The Timeline: https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1BVW7rrUdFlwl1mGY264lSpUKrlW8sz-0b1IHXbzejwc&font=Default&lang=en&initial_zoom=2&height=650