Previous posts in the ‘Marvellous Maps’ series have celebrated the fact that map are constantly being re-imagined in different ways and for different audiences. Some of the most inventive maps are zoomorphic and portray countries and continents as animals. Zoomorphic derives from the Greek ζωον (zōon), meaning animal, and μορφη (morphē), meaning shape or form.

For the most part, zoomorphic maps were created for propaganda purposes. For instance, a recurring theme of European maps from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was the depiction of Russia as a bear or wolf.

Many zoomorphic maps play on stereotypical associations with animals – ‘the ravenous wolf’, the’ lazy donkey’, the ‘docile cow’… as in this European map…
Or the animals are simply symbolic. A German map from the 1850s, shows Turkey as a turkey, Russia as a dancing bear, England as a very meek-looking lion, and France as an eagle but with it’s back turned to the action…
belgium lion
The Belgian Lion, or ‘Leo Belgicus’, 1583. The map depicts an heraldic lion, which occurred on the coats of arms of a number of the Dutch and Flemish provinces, the head of the lion ie. the Netherlandish provinces, is seen roaring at the Spanish Empire .
The government of South Sudan once planned to remodel its 10 state capitals in the shapes of animals and fruit. Under the proposal, the regional capital Juba would be laid out as a rhinoceros. Wau, capital of Bahr el-Ghazal state and South Sudan’s second city, would be restyled as a giraffe. A third one would be transformed into a pineapple. The other state capitals would also be remodelled to look like the flora or fauna in their state emblems. I wonder if it ever actually happened?
world map turned into animal shapes
The cow, horse and cockerel here are formed out of the landmasses of the World. They were created as part of the ‘Twelve Animals’ project by Kentaro Nagai. The twelve different animal shapes represent the Japanese zodiac.

If you are curious to know how the world map was re-formed into animals, click HERE.

These three drawings of an elephant, a rhinoceros and sea turtle were commissioned by the Worldwide Fund for Nature and all include the text of the campaign: “Our life at the cost of theirs?” The aim of this campaign was to frame the encroachment of urban life within the scope of contemporary degradation of the natural ecosystems these animals live in. By drawing these imaginative urban areas within the outlines of the endangered animals, the artists presented a poignant visual perspective on whether our urban societies can sustain their current growth without fatally damaging fragile habitats.




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