By Sarah Barchus
In the article Elephants are Dying Out in America's Zoos from the Seattle Times, reporter Michael Berens compiled data from various sources to form an intriguing and sad story about the failing efforts to sustain the species.
Berens used information from a multitude of reports and logs and other zoo documents and found that the elephant infant mortality rate is 40 percent, triple of that in the wild in Africa and Asia.
The Times also did an analysis of 390 elephant deaths that occurred over the past 50 years, which showed unfortunate realities like the fact that for every one elephant born, two die and that elephants could become "demographically extinct" in the next 50 years. The information revealed common causes of death such as foot and musculoskeletal problems associated with captivity conditions.
Organization was probably the most important skill for this story. The reporter needed to sort through and make sense of many individual elephant cases to identify commonalities and trends. Computer programs such as excel may have been helpful to compile and sort the information.
Berens followed several elephants, among them a pair named Thonglaw and Belle and their baby Packy. The Seattle Times made this information interactive by creating a Thonglaw's family tree. The tree is animated and shows new family members pop up as a moving bar keeps track of the year on a timeline moves forward. The graphic is color-coded to show those alive and those dead and also to show the relationship between the various elephants.
The Seattle Times also displayed information in an interactive map of the United States where readers can see where and why an elephant died. Additionally, readers can view photos of elephants at the zoos.
The graphics, graph and pictures engaged readers by helping them visualize the data beyond numbers and even beyond words.