When satellite companies talk about the imagery they capture, they play up how you can see big, human-made things: planes and trains and parking lots. Sometimes they might mention, too, how important sky pictures are to foresters or farmers.
But as I’ve seen more and more projects that involve imagery, I’ve been struck by the non-human things you can see. Specifically, the animals.
At least two projects have glimpsed individual creatures at “commercially available” resolutions, about the same level as you can see on Google Maps. Here are the two kinds of animals you can see from space:
Above is an elephant walking by itself in the Botswana’s Okavango Delta. You can even see its very elephantine shadow—there’s the trunk!
Mostly, though, elephants are spotted in herds. Here are some in Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa:
These images came out of a project run by two organizations that often focus on military or humanitarian projects: DigitalGlobe, the dominant American provider of satellite imagery, and the Enough Project, an anti-genocide non-profit.
This project, though, focused on reducing elephant poaching.
Analysts examined images of Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the oldest such parks in Africa. They searched for roads and stream beds that poachers might use to sneak into the protected territory, then they matched that with data from elephant-attached radio trackers to figure out how poachers were entering the park—and thus where park rangers should patrol.