Imagining wildlife: New technologies and animal censuses, maps and museums

Audrey Verma*, René van der Wal, Anke Fischer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
10 Downloads (Pure)


By enabling the creation of networks of electronic sensors and human participants, new technologies have shaped the ways in which conservation-related organisations monitor wildlife. These networks enable the capture of data perceived as necessary to evidence conservation strategies and foster public support. We collected interview and archival data from UK-based conservation organisations with regard to their use of digital technologies for wildlife monitoring. As a conceptual device to examine these efforts, we used Benedict Anderson's (1991) work on censuses, maps and museums as social instruments that enabled the imagining of communities. Through a critical application of this framework, the technologically-aided acquisition of wildlife data was shown to inform the new ways in which conservation organisations identify and quantify wildlife, conceptualise animal spaces, and curate conservation narratives. In so defining, delineating and displaying the non-human animal world with the backing of organisational authority, new technologies aid in the representational construction of animal censuses, maps and museums. In terms of practice, large amounts of new data can now be gathered and processed more cost-effectively. However, the use of technologies may also be the result of pressures on organisations to legitimise conservation by being seen as innovative and popular. Either way, human participants are relegated to supporting rather than participatory roles. At a more abstract level, the scale of surveillance associated with instrumentation can be read as an exercise of human dominance. Nonetheless, new technologies present conservation organisations with the means necessary for defending wildlife against exploitation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-86
Number of pages12
Early online date15 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016

Bibliographical note

We thank our interviewees for granting us access to data and permission to use images; the dot.rural RCUK Digital Economy Research Hub, the University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute for funding and support; and Dominic Duckett, Tony James and the two anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.


  • Human-wildlife relations
  • Monitoring and recording networks
  • Wildlife conservation


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