Global Maps With the Density of where Livestock Live


Global Maps With the Density of where Livestock Live


Around the world, the demand for livestock is rising at an ever increasing rate. Today there are around 1.4 billion cattle, almost 2 billion sheep, one billion pigs and almost 20 billion chickens. In fact, livestock makes up about 20% of all land animals everywhere. In 2011 for example, the world slaughtered almost 300 million cows, 947 million sheep and goats, 1.38 billion pigs, 2.8 billion ducks, 1.3 billion turkeys and geese, and a whopping 58 billion chickens.

In order to see the overall distribution and density of where these animals exist, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Environmental Research Group Oxford (ERGO), the University ofOxford and the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) have come together and created these maps here.


This technique of mapping is used in pretty much every domain conceivable, in one way or another, and with different purposes. Mapping the density and distribution of livestock also has its own series of uses. For starters, did you know that livestock are directly responsible for 68% of all ammonia in the atmosphere? While ammonia isn’t directly linked to climate change and global warming per se, it is the direct cause of acid rain. And areas with dense populations of domesticated animals, often times suffer from this nasty effect.

Moreover, trampling the ground, done by intensive grazing, leads to a disruption in the natural water cycle, and the infiltration of different pathogens in the water supply. These maps here can, to a certain extent, show where areas are most at risk from this.

Another important use for these maps is the risk of disease. As most of us know, diseases like smallpox, influenza, measles and others, originated from our livestock and then were transmitted to humans. The biggest ever pandemics the world had ever seen were because of these diseases. When the Europeans first made contact with the New World at the end of the 15th century, over 90% of all Native Americans died. This was because they had no immunity towards these illnesses. Up until the arrival of the Europeans, the Natives never had any contact with sheep, cattle or pigs, and thus these diseases didn’t exist over there.


Another instance of one such pandemic took place much closer to our own timeline, during WWI, in the first quarter of the 20th century. In less than a year, over 500 million people around the globe became infected and ended up killing more than 50 million people; 5 times more than the war itself. Only a small island somewhere in the Amazon basin didn’t report any cases of the Spanish Flu, as it came to  be known. This was a new strain of influenza. Not long after the war, antibiotics were discovered and we, more or less, were able to keep things under control.

But more recently, due in part of the massive use of these antibiotics on livestock, and our own improper use of them, strains of influenza have mutated and have now become immune to these drugs. These are the bird and swine flu we keep hearing about from time to time on the news. If they are to ever spread throughout the world -especially now that we’re more connected than ever- we can expect the death toll to be much higher than back in 1918.

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Researchers recently linked the density of poultry markets to H7N9-strain avian flu incidents, for example.

Tim Robinson from ILRI had this to say: “The obvious use for such maps in the immediate future is to help target surveillance to areas most at risk, which could provide advance warning should the virus spread and allow authorities to move quickly to contain it.” 

“Changes in production globally are driven by increasing wealth in the developing world, population growth and urbanization,” Robinson continues. “We can begin to predict how this will impact upon pandemic risk, pollution from highly concentrated production systems, and availability of cheaper protein.”


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