Photo sphere story: Help to restore the Roodeberg

Posted on August 28th, 2014 in Spotlight on Parks by Administrator

As part of our blog series on African protected areas, we will bring you at least one new “Photo Sphere” story every week. Photo Spheres are 360º panoramic images (think Street View) that can be shared on Google Maps, or with the Views community. Through theStreet View partner programme, more and more remote places are making their way onto Google Street View. Where this is not (yet) the case, Photo Spheres allow the world an immersive view many of Africa’s protected areas.  You can see a selection of Photo Spheres taken in Africa’s protected areas on our interactive story map.

From WWF/TMNP’s “Restore Roodeberg” Campaign

“South of the Noordhoek wetlands rises the Roodeberg, a mountain landscape of exceptional beauty and species diversity that is of global conservation importance. The southern portion of the Roodeberg is part of the Table Mountain National Park, where hikers, runners and horse riders come to immerse themselves in some of the Cape’s most exquisite fynbos and scenery. The northern section is made up of five privately owned properties; with four previously run as the now defunct Solole Game Reserve tourism venture. Due to poor land management, parts of the land are now infested with alien vegetation and a portion is heavily overgrazed, resulting in a large barren and eroded slope that is in urgent need of restoration.

Over the past 10 years South African National Parks (SANParks) has been working hard to consolidate the five privately owned Roodeberg properties into the Table Mountain National Park. To date, SANParks together with its partners The Table Mountain Fund, WWF South Africa and the City of Cape Town, has consolidated three of the five properties, leaving two of the most vulnerable still outside of the Park’s protection.”

 Read more about this campaign, and the Roodeberg at


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Same Problems, Different Solutions – Community Conservancies in Namibia

Posted on August 26th, 2014 in General,Spotlight on Parks by March Turnbull

In the run up to the World Parks Congress in Sydney, we’ve been looking for stories about African conservation areas and the different challenges they face.

Tragically – and it’s a worldwide thing – the challenges are almost always the same.  Invariably agricultural pressure and illegal hunting top the lists of threats.

So we can be encouraged by this report from Namibia, researched and written by Christopher Joyce.  To Save Wildlife, Namibia’s Farmers Take Control was published some time ago now but ‘Communal Conservancy’ programmes continue to thrive in Namibia.  Take a look at the ‘Money Flow’ chart halfway down the page. Even back in 2009, millions of dollars were being earned by communities which shouldered the responsibility for local wildlife conservation.

Credit: Udo Schmidt

Elephants at Otjiwarongo, Namibia      Credit: Udo Schmidt

Of course, there are problems and it’s usually the big game that causes them.  For example, Namibia is the last real stronghold of the cheetah and most of them are outside formal parks and reserves.  Joyce interviews a subsistence farmer who has lost goats to cheetah and explores how the local Community Conservancy tries to soften the impact.

Namibian wildlife is luckier than that in most other countries because of the huge spaces and low human population.   In that respect it lends itself to the Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) model – there should still be enough to go around.  USAID, a long time funder of CBNRM projects is involved, as is WWF and many other NGOs.    While just a handful of Namibia’s National Parks are known outside the country, Community Conservation Areas add significantly to the wildlife estate.

The National Parks of Namibia are only part of the wildlife estate.  Much wildlife is actually found outside them, often in Community Conservancies. To explore MAPA Project’s interactive map of African protected areas, click HERE.


Perhaps the most high profile Community Conservancy is the Torra Conservancy but while I was looking at Wilderness Safaris blog I was encouraged to see that they were reporting not on the flagship Damaraland Camp (Wilderness is a commercial partner of the community), but on community meetings in the Palmwag and Marienfluss Conservancies.  How do communities reconcile the protection of wildlife against the urgent needs of drought stricken cattle herders?   Read the 2014  minutes of the community conservators in Palmwag – it’s difficult.   The good news is that the endangered rhino clearly have local champions.

This is how Wilderness Safari’s scribe saw it:

‘A series of stakeholders’ consultation meetings took place between April and May [2014] to deal with a potentially alarming situation where cattle farmers have moved into the concession illegally for grazing because of the recent drought.

The situation was for some time handled leniently by both the Big 3 Conservancies and the Traditional Authorities in light of the pressing drought situation. This leniency however was exploited by individuals with ill intentions and the safety of wildlife including the black rhino was severely compromised to the extent that Rhino poaching incidents have escalated over a very short period. Sadly preliminary investigations discovered that the illegal cattle farmers on the concession as well as in neighbouring conservancies are in a way linked to the poaching incidents.

This concern was discussed by the stakeholders immediately and action taken to evict the illegal farmers while lawyers were tasked to use the legal route to deal with matter in a fair and un-politicised way.’


Community Conservation is alive and kicking in Namibia!

Credit: Wilderness Safaris

Credit: Wilderness Safaris


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Spotlight on Boma National Park, South Sudan

Posted on August 22nd, 2014 in General by March Turnbull

Africa’s newest country only came into existence  in 2011.  It was a turbulent and violent place before independence from the north and fighting continues today.  It’s not a healthy recipe for environmental protection.

Yet, rumours of the one of the greatest terrestrial wildlife migrations have continued to excite everyone since Mike Fay, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, wrote several years ago of seeing antelope herds hundreds of thousands strong.

The Boma National Park is in the south east of the country, close to the Ethiopia – Gambella National Park is just across the border.  

South Sudan protected areas


Boma is part of a massive migratory wildlife landscape which includes the Sudd, the massive swampland that absorbs so much of the energy of the White Nile. In the mid-1960s there were thought to be 80,000 elephants in the region alongside perhaps two million antelops.  Today there are almost certainly fewer than 5,000 elephants.  

Fast Facts (courtesy of the Wildlife Conservation Society):

  • The almost 200,000 km2-square-mile landscape which includes Boma National Park, is about the size of New York State.
  • Around 1.3 million antelopes migrate across the Boma-Jonglei Landscape taking advantage of seasonal changes in water and food supplies.
  • Among the world’s most important bird areas, the Sudd Swamp is a stopover site for birds migrating between Africa and Eurasia.

In May last year, the wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and South Sudan’s wildlife authorities collared elephant from across the region to understand how the remain herds travel and suffer from poaching.  WCS is a critically important supporter of the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation & Tourism.

Regrettably, they were not able to dart and collar any animals in Boma National Park because of an attack on the park by armed militia who killed the park warden, three rangers and two policeman. Much of the infrastructure was also destroyed, along with almost 100% of the tourist trade.

Elephant collaring project in South Sudan, May 2013.  Credit: Paul Elkan / WCS

Elephant collaring project in South Sudan, May 2013. Credit: Paul Elkan / WCS

 Within the park there is continuing disagreement between local farmers and park rangers about planting and grazing.  That could be said for almost every major park on the continent.

What is different here is the scale of the agriculture.  The fabulous antelope migrations that Mike Fay wrote about a decade ago continue to wash through Boma – and beyond it into Ethiopia’s Gambella National Park.  

Farming in Gambella is taking a whole new direction.  Massive farming concessions, ecncomapssing hundreds of thousands of hectares have been granted to Saudi and Indian agribusiness firms. At least part of those concessions are apparently inside the national park.  Reports indicate that Gambella’s important Duma swamp is already being drained by farming activity. That directly threatens endangered Nile lechwe and the annual kob migrations that run right through this area.  It is difficult to see how to balance the competing needs of business and wildlife.

Boma National Park is struggling to protect its treasures.   It is part of one of the most extraordinary large mammal landscapes in the world.  Hidden for decades by civil war, known to very few outside the region, there is a very real risk of it disappearing before we really know very much about it.


The MAPA Project maps all of Africa’s major protected areas.  Click on the placemarker below for more information about Boma National Park or visit to see other African parks and conservation projects.

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Photo Sphere story: Awe and adventure in the Atlas

Posted on August 20th, 2014 in General,Spotlight on Parks by Alta

As part of our blog series on African protected areas, we will bring you at least one new “Photo Sphere” story every week. Photo Spheres are 360º panoramic images (think Street View) that can be shared on Google Maps, or with the Views community. Through the Street View partner programme, more and more remote places are making their way onto Google Street View. Where this is not (yet) the case, Photo Spheres allow the world an immersive view many of Africa’s protected areas.  You can see a selection of Photo Spheres taken in Africa’s protected areas on our interactive story map.

Proclaimed in 1942, Toubkal National Park is Morocco’s oldest (and highest) National park. It is not without its problems: poaching has decimated many animal populations, local livestock has overgrazed parts of the park, and erosion resulting from too many tourists hiking up the park’s multiple peaks is an ongoing concern. But it is hard to deny its splendor: not only does it provide some of the most spectacular natural scenery on earth, it is also culturally important, with many Berber communities calling the Imlil valley home.

At the foot of Jbel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa, lies the Kasbah du Toubkal, a trekking gateway to the Atlas, and a tranquil hideaway to visitors from all over the world. Originally the home of a local chief during Morocco’s French occupation, the Kasbah was restored in the early 1990s to a “Berber hospitality centre” by two English brothers and a local mountain guide.

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Spotlight on Ruaha National Park

Posted on August 19th, 2014 in General,Spotlight on Parks by March Turnbull

ranger gate sml

Tanzania’s wildlife estate is legendary but the vast majority of tourists visit the ‘Northern Circuit’, which includes the Serengeti and Ngogongoro Crater, rather than the south of the country.

Ruaha National Park  is in the south west,  about halfway between Dar es Salaam and the Zambian border.

There is always something to see as you drive along the river that gives Ruaha National Park its name.

There is always something to see as you drive along the river that gives Ruaha National Park its name.


It’s billed by its champions as the largest park in Africa and at 22,000,000 hectares it is is certainly one of them.  Perhaps more important is its context:  it is surrounded by a mosaic of protected areas including Rungwa, Kizigo and Muhezi Game Reserves, and community-run Wildlife Management Areas.  At over 50,000 km2, this combined area certainly makes it one of the most remote and important reservoirs of African megafauna.

Ruaha itself is a formally controlled conservation area – a classic national park.  It was expanded between 2006 and 2008 to bring the Usangu Wildlife Management area under strict protection.  Usangu had previously been used for cattle grazing, and other activities, but over-consumption (particularly of water) persuaded the authorities to exclude all agricultural activity.  This was not without controversy – people were removed from the area – but wildlife management areasremain a very important part of the park’s context, specifically on the southern border.

In a country where over 30% of the land is part of the protected wildlife estate, Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) continue a national tradition of conservation at a local level.  Almost always adjacent to formally protected areas, where they operate as buffer zones, communities fish, keep bees and harvest thatch and other resources in WMAs. Funds generated are used for community-based initiatives such as schools.

ruaha giraffe sml

To the north and east, the state-run game reserves of Rungwa, Kizigo and Muhezi,catering largely to trophy hunters, effectively insulate Ruaha’s flora and fauna from human predation.

The tourist experience is terrific.  Cheaper to visit than the more famous northern reserves, the logisitics are also easier.  In fact, the road west from Dar es Salaam actually takes you through Mikumi National Park which could complete an awesome wildlife itinerary.

Most visitors stick to the Ruaha river itself where they will see plenty of game but there is much more to the park than that.


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Photo Sphere Story: Simson-Simons Contract Nature Reserve

Posted on August 15th, 2014 in Spotlight on Parks by Alta

As part of our blog series on African protected areas, we will bring you at least one new “Photo Sphere” story every week. Photo Spheres are 360º panoramic images (think Street View) that can be shared on Google Maps, or with the Views community. Through the Street View partner programme, more and more remote places are making their way onto Google Street View. Where this is not (yet) the case, Photo Spheres allow the world an immersive view many of Africa’s protected areas.  You can see a selection of Photo Spheres taken in Africa’s protected areas on our interactive story map.

In January 2014, the Western Cape’s official government gazette noted, almost incidentally (as gazettes do), that Mr. A. Bredall, minister of local government, environmental affairs and development planning, had declared 270 hectares of privately-owned farmland in the Paardeberg as a contract nature reserve, the legal equivalent of a state-owned nature reserve.

Although one might not, upon reading such a notice, immediately appreciate its significance, achieving contract reserve status nonetheless represent a mean feat. As the stewardship process requires significant investment from both the provincial authority, Cape Nature, and a willing private land-owner, only a few of the many special areas critical to achieving South Africa’s overall conservation targets can ever be negotiated to full reserve status through this programme. Since entering into it more than seven years ago, land-owners Johan and Diana Simons have worked with Cape Nature and other partners to demarcate and chart their property, assess it for aliens and erosion, and draw up a carefully drafted management and monitoring plan. After endless legalities, they finally saw that unassuming notice in the gazette, declaring a portion of their farm the SIMSON-SIMONS nature reserve.

So on this warm late-summer evening, as the sun was setting over koppies where quaggas once trotted and zebra may yet gallop again, Johan and Diana could finally raise their glasses of Dragonridge wine (their own label) with family and friends – a group that had grown to include Cape Nature’s unwavering Arnelle van Nooi.

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Spotlight on Virunga

Posted on August 13th, 2014 in General,Spotlight on Parks by March Turnbull

Virunga National Park is one of the iconic reserves in Africa.   It’s famous as a beleaguered refuge for mountain gorillas and infamous for almost all of the challenges facing African wildlife conservation today.

Believed to be Africa’s oldest and most bio-diverse National Park, Virunga is located in the Eastern DRC, the very heart of the continent, straddling the great lakes region where central and East Africa meet.

Virunga faces too many of Africa’s most intractable problems.  Some are rooted in the Rwandan genocide, some in the promise of vast mineral resources.  What is absolutely certain is that if the the region was at peace with itself, this is a park that every single wildlife traveller would want to visit.

In May, Fred Pearce wrote about Virunga for Yale environment 360, probing the highly controversial decision to allow oil prospectors access to over 80% of the park.

Read the full original story , here


 Virunga on film. 

The story of Virunga has recently been captured in a hard-hitting documentary that reminds us that the park is defended by extraordinary people, sometimes under the most dangerous and difficult circumstance imaginable.  Read more stories from Virunga by visiting


 Virunga on MAPA’s Interactive Layer. 

Follow us on Twitter @maparpoject and contribute to our story campaign on using the hashtags #StoryOfAfricanParks and #WorldParksCongress.

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“Spotlight on Parks” series – can you help Africa at the World Parks Congress?

Posted on August 12th, 2014 in General,Spotlight on Parks by March Turnbull


IMG_0718 IMG_2136 serengeti north gate

The MAPA Project is dedicated to putting African wildlife conservation on the map – literally – and we are running a special campaign for the next few months. In November, Sydney will host the IUCN World Parks Congress. This meeting only happens once every 10 years and we want to make sure that Africa’s parks  get seen at a time when parks can no longer be seen as ecological islands to be isolated from humans.  We will be going to the Congress and will be doing everything we can to make sure that Africa’s parks get the attention they deserve.  The MAPA Project map is one tool we can use to do that.

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We are going to blog about as many parks as possible, between now and November. There is a huge diversity of conservation experience found in Africa’s parks – hopeful, worrisome, wondrous, social, ecological, economic.  And more questions than answers….. which ones are resilient, which ones are facing collapse, why? With over 500 African national parks on the MAPA interactive map, we want to tell as many of their stories as possible before the Congress starts.

  • The MAPA team will generate regular park stories until November.
  • We will repost from other organisations’ blogs wherever we can – tweet or email us to let us know what park blogs are out there!
  • We’re also hoping that some of you will tell us about your favourite parks so that they get a mention.   Can you submit a few words about the parks you have visited or worked in?  Description is good but a little background about its particular circumstances is even better.   What are its special challenges, does it protect very rare species, what does the future look like?     A couple of pictures and a few hundred words is all it needs – though more is more!

Either submit your story using this form or just send us an email with your words and pictures to march[at] If you can repost this on your own blog, or retweet the notification around the conservation & travel community that would be fantastic.

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Follow us on Twitter @mapaproject and contribute to our story campaign using the hashtags   #StoryOfAfricanParks and #WorldParksCongress.  We will also be posting to our Google+ and Facebook pages.

You can also follow the stories geographically (we do, after all, map Africa’s protected areas).  We’ve created an interactive map where you will be able to navigate to all the stories we blog in the coming weeks, see the stories that users submit, and, for the interactive experience, view photo spheres taken in parks.   

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On Jane Goodall and sharing reasons for hope

Posted on February 11th, 2014 in Featured Conservation,General,Google Geo Tools,Media by Alta

Here at the MAPA Project, we do our best, in our small way, to help conservation organisations and individuals make their work more visible and accessible. One – perhaps the main – reason we do this is because, in the words of Jane Goodall, “Only when people know will they care. Only when they care will they act. Only when they act can the world change”.

Indeed, when it comes to helping people know, and urging them to care and act,  few people have done as much as the incomparable Dr. Goodall.  A few months shy of her 80th birthday, she is still travelling around the world, telling her stories, and, like she can be seen doing here at the University of Cape Town’s Vice-Chancellor’s lecture just last week, spreading messages of hope.

In the lecture, Dr. Goodall expresses the hope that we can find a way of working with our minds and our our hearts in unison, a sentiment I found particularly sincere and fitting, having listened to a presentation  delivered by the Jane Goodall Institute’s vice president of conservation efforts, Lilian Pintea, at Google Earth Outreach’s Geo for Good user-summit in November last year. You might remember that we covered some of the highlights from this conference, including JGI’s  “Goodall, Gombe, and Google” tour, earlier this year.

A screenshot from the JGI “Goodall, Gombe and Google Tour”. Remember that you can create a story like this with your work – Software Advice has a very helpful write-up on how public benefit organisations can use this tool to craft their stories).

As much as Lillian’s talk, on that occasion, was about how JGI is leveraging technology to help them look after Chimpanzees in Africa, it was also a humble and heartfelt story of community, collaborative innovation  and throwing every tool at their disposal at understanding and improving life for chimpanzees and the complex social and ecological systems within which they live. A story of an organisation indeed working with their minds and hearts in unison.

Upon reflection it struck me that, in her UCT address, Jane doesn’t speak of “visions of hope” but “reasons for hope”.  Perhaps she can do this because this is something that she has, both in her personal capacity and through the work of the Jane Goodall Institute and the Root & Shoots programme, come to embody herself.

But don’t take my word for it – listen to her full speech in the video above, or go on a journey to Gombe to learn, through the story of one chimpanzee family, about some of the work JGI is doing with chimpanzees in Africa.

We know that Jane Goodall, the Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots aren’t the only “reasons for hope” in African conservation. We know that many of you have similar “heart and mind” stories . We would love to hear, and help tell, them.


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11 Geo for Goodnesses to help you on your mapping way

Posted on January 9th, 2014 in General,Google Geo Tool Blog Series,Google Geo Tools by Alta

In November last year we were fortunate enough to travel to Mountain View, California to attend the Geo for Good 2013 summit. Being all about helping organisations and individuals make their work more visible and accessible using mapping tools, we thought we’d share some of what we learned at the summit with you.

Instead of doing this is the traditional “blog” format, though, we felt it would be more appropriate to take you on a journey around the world (admittedly spending much of the time in “our world”, Africa) with this tour.

Enjoy, and happy 2014!


Geo for Good 2013. Photo: Google Earth Outreach.



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