Where the Animals Go

Published on 13 March 2019 in Book reviews

By James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti

Penguin Books, 2018; pbk, 174pp; colour illustrations and maps; ISBN 978-0-141-98222-9

£14.99 buy it from the BB Bookshop

This book begins with what turns out to be an appropriate quote from Rudyard Kipling: ‘This, O my best beloved, is a story – a new and wonderful story – a story quite different from other stories.’ It introduces a rather unusual book about the tracking of animal movements, not just birds but other animals too. It is the product of a geographer and a skilled designer (who worked for National Geographic), but both have a fascination for wildlife. The book is arranged as a number of separate ‘stories’, each about a particular project on a particular species, written with the cooperation of the biologist who did the original tracking work. Some 15 stories deal with studies on mammals, 13 with birds, four with reptiles, two with insects, one with sharks and one with plankton. Each story tells of an interesting and often surprising finding, reminding us of the amazing navigational and other accomplishments that some animals are capable of. The book highlights the often immense geographical needs of some species, emphasising the inadequacy of even the largest national parks to fully protect large mammals, such as elephants, giraffes and wolves. As tracking has shown, these animals range so widely that they can spend large parts of their lives outside protected areas, where many meet their death. 

In addition to presenting some of the most stunning stories from the animal-tracking revolution of recent years, this book can be viewed as a celebration of modern biotechnology. It gives examples of studies that have used acoustic tracking, Argos satellite tracking, GPS tracking, light loggers, radio tracking and various other sensors to follow individual animals as they travel around their daily ranges, cross continents and oceans, or move about below water or below ground.

Bird studies include migrating warblers dodging tornados, terns migrating between the Arctic and Antarctic, albatrosses circling the seas around Antarctica, geese crossing the Himalayas, Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus on their foraging and migratory movements, Snowy Owls Bubo scandiacus hunting waterfowl from floating ice, White Storks Ciconia ciconia migrating between Europe and Africa, tits moving between different feeders in Wytham Woods, and several others.

Each story occupies some 2–12 pages, and the accompanying ‘map-drawings’ by Oliver Uberti are especially attractive and informative. This combination of engaging text and high-quality artwork makes this book a delight to read, or even just to dip into whenever you have a spare moment. It conveys a lot of information in a painless way.

Ian Newton