Imagine hopping onto the New York City subway and seeing it packed with Christmas Island geckos or Burmese roofed turtles. This would never happen, obviously. The Christmas Island gecko is actually extinct in the wild, and the Burmese roofed turtle is endangered.
That’s exactly why data journalist and artist Mona Chalabi included them in her latest graphics for The Guardian, where she serves as a data editor. Titled “Endangered Species on a Train,” the pieces show seven endangered species that can fit both in terms of size and number into a single New York City subway car—“if they squeeze,” that is.
At first, Chalabi told Earther, she toyed with the idea of fitting these endangered animals in swimming pools or a building. The key was figuring out what would most clearly convey how rare these creatures have become. Eventually, she landed on the MTA’s ailing subway system.
“Even though not everyone’s been in New York, you have a vague sense of what a subway car is like,” she told Earther.
The series took Chalabi a month, longer than her projects usually take—but the wait was well worth it.
Species include the Javan rhino, which is critically endangered, the vaquita, also critically endangered with about 30 wild individuals remaining, and the Guam kingfisher, which is extinct in the wild. Whittling the species down from a list of 20 animals was difficult, but she had to be sure to include a wide range of types of species—from birds to marine life to reptiles.
In her visuals, the animals are drawn to scale, but even those of the same species include some size variation. Not all animals are exactly the same, of course. Chalabi is also quick to remind us that the number of animals she includes are often estimates. Researchers can only be so certain about populations of animals that have become incredibly scarce.
“Ultimately, the visual still gives you a sense that it’s roughly this number,” she said.
And Chalabi hopes people can truly get a sense of what these numbers mean. These animals are on the brink of extinction—often due to invasive species or poaching, and climate change isn’t helping. Through quirky visuals, the average person can become more aware of their plight.
And who isn’t fascinated by the sight of an Amur leopard on a subway car?
Correction 9/18/18 4:25 p.m. ET: This post previously had Mona Chalabi’s name misspelled in a few places. It’s been corrected to reflect the correct spelling of her name.