Artist redraws the world with 1,642 free-roaming animals — and no humans

The Current11:34A hand-drawn map with no people, but 1,642 free-roaming animals

Artist Anton Thomas wanted to draw a “world map of nature” that would showcase the many different species across the globe — but at one point he was a little worried he’d run out of animals.

“I thought before drawing, ‘Oh, surely I would run out of species across the Southern Ocean [Antarctic Ocean] or the vast South Pacific,'” said Thomas, a New Zealand man now living in Melbourne.

“But no, there was just always more to choose from,” he told The Current’s Matt Galloway.

In the end, Thomas included 1,642 species — but no humans.

“It’s a physical world map with no international borders, no cities, really very little sign of humanity at all,” he said. 

“But it’s absolutely loaded with species of animals all across every different habitat that you could imagine … it’s just sort of exploding with life.” 

The map features 1,642 animals, bird and sea creatures in their natural habitats. (Submitted by Anton Thomas)

A very colourful and detailed map of a part of Canada, with animals drawn in every space.
Canada’s West Coast as seen on the map, which is called Wild World. (Submitted by Anton Thomas)

Thomas is a full-time artist-cartographer whose illustrated maps are available on his website. This particular map, called Wild World, was drawn by hand with coloured pencil and detailed in ink with fine pen. Thomas wanted to ensure it was accurate and educational, so he spent time researching every animal and its natural habitat. Physical boundaries like rivers and shorelines were traced to match established maps of the natural world. 

He originally thought the project would take six months to complete — it took three years.

You get to a point [where] it’s like, ‘Well, I can’t really go back now, can I?'” he joked.

The artist had three basic rules about which animals he would include. They had to be wild animals, rather than domesticated. Species needed to be indigenous to the region, not introduced by human migrations. The animals also had to be still living in our world today, meaning Thomas had to resist the urge to include “a Tasmanian tiger and or a dodo or even some dinosaurs.”

“I thought that was very important once again to remind people, like, ‘Hey, OK, this might feel like an idealistic vision of the planet, but there’s nothing here that isn’t there,'” he said.

“This is our world. Cherish it.”

A very colourful and detailed map of a part of Canada, with animals drawn in every space.
Animals featured in Canada’s North include polar bears, seals and even a narwhal. (Submitted by Anton Thomas)

A very colourful and detailed map of the region around India, with animals drawn in every space.
The region around India. Physical boundaries like rivers and shorelines were traced to match established maps of the natural world. (Submitted by Anton Thomas)

Drawing on a fridge in Montreal

Thomas loved looking at maps while he was growing up in New Zealand. He described it as a place where “the grandeur of nature is constantly impressed upon you.”

“[Maps] told me that the world I was living in was far more amazing and fantastical and full of adventure and mythos than any fantasy world conjured up by great authors or anything in a video game,” he said. 

But the idea of creating his own large-scale maps began after Thomas moved to Canada on a working holiday visa in 2012. He said travelling around North America reignited his childhood love of maps — right before he was offered an unusual canvas.

In Montreal, he and his housemates salvaged a rusty old fridge from the side of the road for their kitchen, and gave it a fresh coat of white paint. His housemate had seen Thomas sketching maps, and asked him to draw one on the fridge itself. 

“[I] started with Vancouver’s skyline with the Lions Gate Bridge … now we need to do Seattle and Portland and San Francisco,” he said. 

“And next thing you know, it had been six weeks in front of the fridge.”

A composite image made up of two images. On left, a fridge in a kitchen with drawing all over it, of a map of North America. On right, a close up of the same image, with towns and cities more visible.
An earlier map, focused on North America, started out as a drawing on his fridge in Montreal. (Submitted by Anton Thomas)

A very colourful and detailed map of a part of Canada.
Thomas’s North America map did include human life and landscapes, such as big city skylines. (Submitted by Anton Thomas)

Thomas spent the next five years drawing North America: Portrait of a Continent — a map that spans from the Arctic to Central America. It took longer because he was holding down a day job at the time, but he said it was the step he needed to turn his childhood love of maps into his passion as an adult. 

“My career as an adult, really it started there on a refrigerator in Little Italy, Montreal,” he said.

Thomas said working on such long-term projects did “derange [his] life in certain ways,” and there were times he felt “kind of captive to this creative odyssey.”

But he said it’s worth it if he gets to give people hope that the world is still wild and flourishing, despite humanity’s hand in ecological and climate-related problems. 

“I just want to inspire people to be more interested in their surroundings, because we really do have something special here,” he said.

“Whatever you do, don’t be bored because, my God, there’s a lot out there to see.”

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