Brooke Barker, the Portland, Oregon-based author and illustrator of Sad Animal Facts, her online cartoon series that will be released as a book on September 6, has always had a bit of an animal obsession.
"I’ve been an animal enthusiast ever since I was the age when all of us were animal enthusiasts," she said.
Sad Animal Facts, which features animal illustrations accompanied by facts—many of which could be described as sad—started on Instagram and Tumblr before gaining enough momentum to generate interest from Flatiron Publishing.
Barker said the feedback for the project has been amazing and that her sometimes overzealous discussion of animals often comes across better online than in-person.
"It’s great to receive sweet messages from enthusiastic animal-lovers, instead of people saying 'All right Brooke, you’ve told us enough about snow monkeys' the way they do in real life," she said.
These facts are not the sort of doom-and-gloom ones that regularly make their way through the environmental news cycle: elephant and other large animal populations are not dramatically falling; overfishing is not a chronic problem; environmental degradation is not rapidly wiping out critical habitats; ocean acidification is not threatening the world's marine life; the sixth great mass extinction in Earth's history is not already underway.
The simple, square illustrations present a world devoid of humans—one in which animals are free to be their best freaky, idiosyncratic selves.
Barker said that while there are enough "sad animal facts caused by humans to fill many books," she prefers "animal facts are just about animals being themselves."
Overall, she thinks the illustrations do work for the greater good of animals. She said they help people stay excited about animals and motivate them to want to protect animals and their environments.
"The better we protect animals, the more we can keep learning about them," she said. "We’re not even close to learning everything about the animal kingdom, every day there are new studies released and new species discovered."
With around 18,000 new plants and animals being cataloged every year, some two million of Earth’s species have been discovered. Scientists estimate that this leaves at least 10 million more species yet to be classified, according to a 2012 study.
Here I will insert an actually really sad animal fact: Researchers have estimated that one in six species could be extinct by the year 2100 if current negative environmental trends, such as climate change, continue unabated.
Brooke also thinks her project is a reminder of why animals need their space.
"Animals interact with the world so differently than humans do, whether that involves laying eggs under their skin, eating regurgitated food, sleeping only a few minutes at a time, or laughing when they’re scared," she said. "They eat, sleep, mate, and exist in such a different way than humans, that it makes sense they need their own habitats to do it in."
How long these unique habitats will continue to thrive in a human-dominated world depends a lot humans. As it stands, according to a new study in Nature Communications, 75% of the planet's surface is experiencing "measurable human pressures." These pressures are getting worse in places with the highest biodiversity left.
Asked to choose a sad animal fact that really resonated with her, Barker said she's obsessed with crows and their ability to never forget a face.
"If a crow dislikes a human not only will she never forget it, but she’ll describe the offender’s face to her whole community so all the crows in the area will know who to gang up on," she said. "I try to be incredibly courteous every time I see a crow, and go out of my way to be friendly without being overbearing. I’d really like my local crows to like me."