Conserving the unknown

Note: if you shiver at the sight of creepy-crawlies, you may want to skip this piece.

Two full-colour illustrations of a giant panda and a millipede side by side

Did you study adorable endangered animals in school?

I did. In third grade, I proudly presented my hastily stapled five-page nonfiction manual on dolphins and whales, complete with full-colour drawings, to my class. This now feels like an ingenious way to introduce children and adults alike to Earth’s declining biodiversity — people pay attention when we find out we might no longer see furry and friendly-faced creatures in a few years. But what’s the whole story?

Two weeks ago, I started searching for data from the International Union for Conservation for Nature’s “Red List”, the renowned source for information on extinction threats to various animals, plants, and fungi. I narrowed my focus to animals only (once again exercising the above-described bias) and produced the below slides of explainers and visualisations, treating this as a work in progress as I continue to iterate design and presentation elements.

This work, though incomplete, reveals that conservation work is not glamorous. Insects and arachnids, for example, some of the world’s most feared creatures, make up more than 97% of known animal species, but only 1% of these are classified by the IUCN. The biggest gaps in knowledge of species threat levels are seen for the species marginalised in the popular consciousness (for example, examine the last page of the visualisation above — I had never heard of half of those animal groups before I begun this project). I admit that I did not delight in sketching the worm-like species featured here, and feared for the people sitting behind me in my university library who might come across my computer screen. However, as a layperson with an occasional interest in zoology, I now realise that discomfort is an important part of conservation.

Thank you for reading. 💚

Donate to support the IUCN’s species assessments here.

This post is not affiliated with the IUCN or any other conservation organisation.




she/her. Population Health student @ UCL. Perpetual dataviz nerd. Published on Towards Data Science and UX Collective.

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Yaning Wu

Yaning Wu

she/her. Population Health student @ UCL. Perpetual dataviz nerd. Published on Towards Data Science and UX Collective.

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