This activity is designed to help you develop your understanding of your own animal geography. It may be interesting to do this activity with others to compare experiences as it will help deepen your understanding of what is meant by the geography of human-animal relations. You will need a journal or paper and writing tools (some enjoy using colored pencils or markers).
Why is it even important to consider animals?
To recognize that we are animals. Our society often separates humans from other animals and reminding ourselves of our 'animalness' allows us to begin with a recognition of connection.
Because of our impact on other species. Human society, with its 7 billion + population, has a direct impact on the ability of other animals to share the space of the planet.
Because researchers across many fields are discovering every day the phenomenal abilities of other species to be self-aware, to use complex thinking, to use language, to experience emotions, and to use sensory aparatus that humans simply do not have as humans. Everyday it seems we are learning more and more about how animals are more like humans than not - how we adjust as a human society to these advances is a real question for the times.
Because we often love animals - deeply and intensely. Whether it is the love felt for your dog or the inexplicable connection you might feel for elephants or sharks or dung beetles. Animals can enrich our experience of being human on the planet at many levels, yet we don't often get a chance to reflect on exactly what that might mean for us as individuals.
Because there is a lot of social conflict about how animals should be treated. Why should we care about some animals and not others? Should we always care about people more than animals or vice versa? For an example of a current conflict over animals see our blog post on Cecil the Lion.
What does it mean consider your geographic relationships to animals?
Consider for a moment how often you encounter animals, representations of them, or their signs in everyday life - they may be in your home as pets or pests, in your garden pollinating your flowers or food, or on billboards advertising products. Your encounters with animals in everyday life, however, are going to be quite different from someone who lives in another part of the world or has a different cultural identity. The ability to understand geographical differences often begins with understanding our own context and that is exactly what this exercise is designed to do.
We are going to be developing 'concept maps' or 'mind maps.' This is a tool often used by geographers and creatives of all sorts to think through a topic. A concept map is a visual representation of the relationships between topics or concepts.
These are an excellent way to organize an idea, topic, or personal experience. As you can see from the diagram on the right - you begin at the center and work your way outwards.
There is no right or wrong way to do a concept map - it is entirely yours. If you want you can do a simple internet search for concept maps or even concept maps about animals to see many examples.
Your animal geography concept maps:
On one piece of paper take a few moments to brainstorm all the different ways you can think of where humans and animals interact. This will include things like eating, hunting, pet-keeping, and movies, but may also include zoos, whale-watching, or horse racing. Look around your house, consider what you purchase, reflect on your vacations or family members and friends. Your list should begin to build up quickly.
When you feel you have finished your list turn to a new page and draw a circle and place yourself in the center. Working with your list (and using colors if you want) draw the following topic lines outward and being to fill them in:
Eating - animals I eat and animals I don't - try to get at least a word about why (religion, upbringing, allergies, gross, etc.)
Belong in home - yes or no - dogs? cockroaches? birds? alligators? snakes? (add why)
Attraction to - which animals do you consider 'good/love', 'bad', 'fear', or are 'indifferent' to? (add why)
Practices - which actions towards animals are 'right', 'wrong', or 'neutral' for you? This may include practices such as hunting, circuses, animal research, declawing, greyhound racing, dog fighting - but push yourself to consider as many as you can. (add why).
Now take some time to go back through your concept map and pretend you are a completely different person from a completely different place. How might your answers change? Add these answers to your map either in a different color or with a small border to distinguish them from your personal views.
Congratulations! You have completed you own personal animal map. How does it feel to see your relations to animals organized in such a way? You may find you think of additional things over the next several days - take the time to go back and continue to fill your map out. This is exactly how researchers and creatives continue to refine their ideas and you are learning to really think about the geography of your relations to animals not just a more superficial "I like animals" or "I don't eat pigs."
This exercise is a great sharing tool and conversation starter. It is also an excellent way to allow children to start thinking about animals as well.
We'd love to hear/see your results so please feel free to comment and share!