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How Human Activity Is Changing Animal Migration Patterns

Zozu, like any other white stork in Europe, typically flies to southern Africa for the winter. Yet when researchers at Germany’s Max Plank Institute for Ornithology tracked the bird’s path using a GPS logger in 2016, they found that he and a few others had skipped the grueling migration across the Sahara Desert. That year, the birds stopped, instead, in cities like Madrid, Spain, and Rabat, Morocco. Apparently, they had developed a taste for junk food, in particular the stuff that piles up in landfills along the migration route.

When it comes to how human activity has altered animal behavior, this is one of the more glaring examples featured by geographer James Cheshire and visual designer Oliver Uberti in their latest book, Where the Animals Go. In it, they mined the data of nearly 40 studies that used sophisticated technology to track how and where animals migrate, turning raw numbers into a series of stunning maps.

Humans have long tracked the movements of animals by following their paw prints or staking out their natural habitats. That kind of observation still has its value today, but now biologists also benefit from a slew of satellite, radio, and GPS technologies that can track the digital footprints of, say, a herd of elephants or a flock of storks as they move across the globe. And at a time when both climate change and urban development are changing—and disrupting—the migration routes, there’s a new urgency in these kinds of research.


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