Skeppies: Funding community-based business for conservation

Posted on July 5th, 2011 in Featured Conservation,General,Get Involved!,New Content by Alta

This blog post is the first in a new series that we will run to highlight some conservation efforts in Africa and some of the content on the MAPA layer. This week we focus on Skeppies, the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme (SKEP) community conservation and development and small grants fund operting in the Northern Cape.  Amanda Bourne, of the Climate Action Partnership, explains more about what Skeppies is, and what it hopes to achieve:

The Skeppies fund provides accessible small scale funding and support to projects in the Succulent Karoo Biodiversity Hotspot with combined socio-economic development and conservation outcomes. The Skeppies projects are small conservation based businesses and community conservation projects and funding supports business skills development, marketing, and building resilience to climate change.

The Port Nolloth Bird Park is one of the initiatives supported in the Skeppies small grants programme.

During its pilot phase in 2007, Skeppies supported 13 projects representing a total of 22 new businesses and providing direct benefits to 109 local people. Since then, Skeppies projects have continued to generate significant numbers of new jobs, raise environmental awareness, and achieve remarkable conservation delivery including the conservation of 5230 hectares of land, the better management of a further 41 461 hectare, and the protection of 236 red-listed plant species. Projects currently supported by the fund include traditional catering businesses, hiking trails, land rehabilitation efforts, environmental education, species protection, and sustainable livestock management.

Ouma Hannah's kookskerm is another community-based business supported through the Skeppies programme.

Since 2009, CitiGroup has provided funding for a selection of Skeppies projects to engage in a business development and mentoring programme aimed centrally at building resilience to climate variability and change. The Succulent Karoo is likely to be hard hit by climate change, experiencing an increase in the frequency and intensity of droughts and floods and a projected surface temperature increase of at least 2 degrees.

Conservation South Africa and the Skeppies project development team are currently working with ten selected projects, all of which have been trained in environmental business development and climate change through a series of workshops and site visits and have been monitoring weather patterns, rainfall, and temperature using specially developed climate diaries since March 2010.

To learn more about the Skeppies projects, download the layer file below to see them in Google Earth, or visit the Climate Action Partnership’s website.

View the Skeppies Projects in Google Earth

Tanzanian tracks & tours

We’ve been neglecting our blog terribly in the last three weeks and we apologise for that. Things have been quite busy here at the MAPA Project – in a good way! One of the reasons we’ve been so quiet is that we’ve recently been attending, and given trainings at the ATBC/SCB Africa conference in Arusha.  We’ll tell you more about that soon, but this week we wanted to share three small tours we created with conference delegates whilst in Tanzania.  These tours aren’t flashy at all – and purposefully so!

Being in the business of visualising conservation, we’re very fond of Google Earth tours, but they can take a really time to put together! This needn’t always be the case, though, and you don’t have to create a 15-minute-all-singing-all-dancing-master-piece to use this tool in your day-to-day work to visualise important information and concepts to your colleagues, students, peers or a public audience.

To illustrate this point, and share a small piece of Tanzania’s splendour with you, here are three short, simple, and pretty unpolished tours. We’ll upload these to our Google Earth layer, so you will also be able to download them from the “click here to see more buttons” for these particular protected area bubbles.

Taking it from the top – literally – we fly to Kilimanjaro first. Towering approximately 5100m above the surrounding landscape at Moshi, there are certainly many ecological stories you could tell about Kilimanjoro. In this case, however, we only have one small piece of information that we’re interested in conveying: Kili’s shrinking snow-caps.

Kilimanjaro is a great place (regrettably!) to use the time-slider in Google Earth. So, during our in-conference demonstrations, we showed participants how they could drag the time-slider back to see what the snow-caps used to look like in 1976, snapshot-view this perspective, then create another snapshot view to a current-day image, add a picture in a pop-up bubble, import a gps track, draw a polygon around the old snow-caps – and finally, add a bit of voice narration. It’s not a tour that will make it into the showcase, but it tells a story! And it probably took about 10 minutes to put together.

Download the tour here

Next, we stay in northern Tanzania and head for Ngorongoro crater for a slightly more touristy rendezvous.  In this case, we simply tried to virtually represent the experience of travelling down the Ngorongoro crater, encountering spectacular wildlife and a scary numbers of cameras clicking away at these animals! To make this three-minute virtual safari, I just imported my GPS tracks from the day’s drive, syncronised them with some of the photographs I took on my visit (I used gpicsync, but there are many other packages you could use), animated the track in Google Earth and popped the photographs at certain points I had snapshot viewed before hand. It took all of 15 minutes to make.

Download the tour here

You can, of course, get more flashy with tours, as we showed in a very small way with the little one-minute tour we created for Katavi National Park. In this tour, we delved into the KML code, and changed the visibility of our screen-overlays and the co-ordinates of our polygons, to create the effects you see in the tour.  Again, even though this tour contains a few more advanced elements, it’s still very simple and tells a very short and contained story.

For a very gentle introduction to more advanced touring – have a look at the tutorial we put together…it contains links to many other more advanced and comprehensive tutorials on touring as well – if you really want to get serious about creating tours.

Download the tour here

Once you’ve recorded and saved your tour, you can create an offline movie file using Google Earth Pro or screen-capture software like Camtasia and include this movie in your PowerPoint presentation…you won’t even need Google Earth or an internet connection to show your visualisation to your audience (you could, of course, also embed your tour in a website if you wanted to).

Also – don’t forget to  upload it to your MAPA project bubble. If you click on the “KML” tab when you enter information for your project, you’ll see an option for uploading your KML/KMZ file. Your tour will appear as a “footprint” and anyone who clicks on your bubble will be able to play your tour in Google Earth.

There are spectacular Google Earth tours available that showcase issues and areas in Africa – have a look, for example, at the Save the Elephants tour, or some of the Cop15 and Cop16 tours. If you would like to create one of these, you’ll have to put in the time, and may even have to look at hiring a developer. But you don’t have to be a developer, or have lots of time on your hands, to utilise Google Earth tours to visualise a problem, concept or dataset. Get started with this tutorial, and let us know what you come up with! Remember to add your KML/KMZ  file to your MAPA Project record!


More ways to virtually visit National Parks

Posted on April 6th, 2011 in General,New Content by Alta

While we busy teaching the Western Cape’s conservation practitioners how to use Google Earths & Maps in Stellenbosch and Cape Town over the last two weeks (more on that soon), our editor, Peter Levey, was working on ways to make the National Parks more visible virtually.

We’ve been sitting on a lot of photos taken by volunteer mappers over the course of the last two years as they crisscrossed the continent’s national parks with their GPSes and cameras. Peter took a selection of these photographs, uploaded them as slideshows to Picasa and embedded these in Google Earth (Learn how to do that here).


He then uploaded these to the protected areas in question (much like you can add your own Google Earth KML and KMZ files to your MAPA project bubbles). The end result? If you visit a selection of National Parks, and click on “click to see more” (as shown below) you can view these photographs within Google Earth. Just click on the slideshow icon, as shown below, to see them.



The Parks that we’ve uploaded slideshows for are are:

  • Bikuar, Angola
  • Kasungu, Malawi
  • Akagera, Rwanda
  • Gombe Stream, Tanzania
  • Katavi, Tanzania
  • Murchison Falls, Uganda
  • Sioma Ngwezi, Zambia
  • Hwange, Zimbabwe
  • Gorongosa. Mozambique
  • Nechisar, Ehiopia

In the coming months we’ll add more slideshows and track tours (like the one we added for Iona, in Angola). Let us know what you think, or email us you own. We might just add it to a protected area bubble.

A new way to see national parks

Posted on November 4th, 2010 in General,New Content by Alta

One of the exciting new features of Google Earth 5.2 (the newest version of Google Earth released in May) is the ability to turn any GPS track into a quick tour.

This was great news for us! Over the last year, dozens of MAPA volunteers have crossed the African continent to map national parks and other protected areas, taking pictures and logging waypoints and tracks as they went along. Up until now we haven’t really had a good way to share these experiences with you, but thanks to the ability to turn tracks into tours almost with the click of a button, we can now fly you along our adventures through selected National parks.

To give you a feel for this, we’ve added the first of these quick tours to the layer – for Iona National Park in south-western Angola.  Iona is definitely not Africa’s most accessible or charismatic park – save for a few Gemsbok, Ostrich and – if you’re lucky – Springbok, you’re unlikely to find any big game here.  But with Olive Ridley turtles surfing the crocodile-infested Foz de Kunene, ancient Welwitchia mirabilis littering the lunar-like landscapes that make up the north of the Park and the rugged “striped” mountains and nomadic Himba villages of the east, it still has plenty of charm.

To play the tour, simply click on the “click here to see more” button at the top of the Google Earth bubble, and then click on the track icon in the side panel (as shown below). We’ve included photographs of our visits to the north-eastern stretch to Iona, so as you drive along the landscape, feel free to stop the tour and have a look for yourself. Want to create a tour with your own GPS-tracks? See here for more, or have a look at our step-by-step guidefor the the Iona track.


We’d like to hear your feedback on this feature – do you find it helpful and interactive? And which parks would you like us to add next? Please let us know!

Second batch of Ramsar sites added

Posted on October 11th, 2010 in General,New Content by Alta

Two weeks ago, we brought you the first batch of African Ramsar sites – wetlands protected under the international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971.

Today we bring you the other half .  You can now also find information on Ramsar sites in Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea,Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Namibia, Niger,Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa,Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia on the MAPA layer.

Many of these sites still don’t have pictures, and you may well have information that can help make this part of the layer more complete.  Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you do!


A cleaner conservation layer – with critical habitats!

Posted on September 10th, 2010 in General,New Content by Alta
As we started to populate the African conservation landscape, we quickly realized that that clutter on the map would be a problem. You’ll remember back in February that this was resolved by “hiding” projects, blogs and points at a lower “altitude” in Google Earth, which simply meant that you had to zoom in to see this content.
Switching over to “live” layer meant that we lost the ability to“ hide content at different altitudes for a little while, but you’ll see that the much cleaner look for the layer has returned now, along with points and blogs.  You’ll only see countries and protected areas when you open the layer – but just zoom in a little bit and you’ll see projects, points, and blogs pop up again.
Finding Projects, Blogs and Points:
Here are a few tips to find projects, points and blogs on the layer
1. Use the side panel
2. Look in the “projects” tab of “protected areas” and “countries”
3. Zoom right in with “click to see more”
For more on how to use the layer, have a look at the MAPA Introductory video:

As we populated the Google Earth Conservation layer with more and more content, we quickly realized that the map was becoming too cluttered. You’ll remember back in February that this was resolved by “hiding” projects, blogs and points at a lower “altitude” in Google Earth, which simply meant that you had to zoom in to see this content.

Switching over to a “live” layer meant that we lost the ability to “ hide”content at different altitudes for a little while, but you’ll see that the much cleaner look for the layer has returned now, along with points and blogs.  Thus, when you open the layer and are zoomed far out,  you’ll only see countries and protected areas, but just zoom in a little closer and you’ll see projects, points, and blogs pop up.




If you’re looking for specific protected areas or projects – remember that you can also find these by expanding the categories in your “my places” panel. You can also fly to project bubbles from the “project” tabs of protected area and country bubbles, as shown in the example below.


For more on how to use the layer, have a look at the MAPA Introductory video:

Biodiversity hotspots, Endemic Bird Areas and CARPE landscapes added to the layer
Biodiversity is not equally distributed on earth: there are areas that are of special significance because they contain a particular rich diversity of species, or is home to species that occur only in limited areas. Several organizations have identified such areas – and very often they don’t fall within the boundaries of protected areas.
There are different types of these ‘critical habitats’ – ranging from the “sites” defined as important bird areas, key biodiversity areas and ramsar sites, to landscapes spanning large landscapes, even across several countries.
As of today, you can find three “categories” of these areas on the MAPA layer: Biodiversity hotspots, Endemic Bird Areas and CARPE landscapes.
Here is a bit more information on the three new additions:
Biodiversity hotspots: There are eight of these areas, identified by Conservation International in Africa.. A biodiversity is an area of exceptional levels of plant endemism and serious levels of habitat loss.  To qualify as a hotspot, a region must contain at least 1500 species of vascular plants as endemics and it has to have lost at least 70% of that original habitat.
Have a look at this video from Conservation International that explains how biodiversity hotspots are chosen – and why they’re important.
CARPE Landscapes:  The Central African Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE) is a long-term initiative by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to address the issues of deforestation and biodiversity loss in the Congo Basin forest zone through efficient natural resource management in 12 landscapes in six Central African countries. These landscapes are defined as priority areas for conservation based on the species that they represent, the overall integrity of the landscape, and the resilience of ecological processes within it.
We hope that you enjoy the changes to the layer, and the new content. Please let us know your thoughts!

Biodiversity hotspots, Endemic Bird Areas and CARPE landscapes added to the layer

In addition to the cleaner layer, we’re also bringing you a whole new category of information on the layer today, collectively called “critical habitats”.

Species are not equally distributed on earth: there are areas that are of special significance because they contain a particular rich diversity of species, or species that have limited ranges and/or are severely threatened.  Several organizations have identified such areas (often outside official protected areas) using the best science on offer. There are different types of these ‘critical habitats’ – ranging from the “sites” defined as important bird areas, key biodiversity areas and ramsar sites, to much larger areas spanning landscapes across several countries.

We have now added the first three of these  “categories” to the layer: Biodiversity hotspots, Endemic Bird Areas and CARPE landscapes.  Read about these areas, the species that make them unique, and the measures taken to protect them. Want to know more? Simply visit the official fact sheets by clicking on the links in the bubbles.


We hope that you enjoy the changes to the layer, and the new content. Please let us know your thoughts! In the mean time, have a look at this video from Conservation International that explains how Biodiversity hotspots are chosen and why they’re important.

Getting ready to go live

Posted on April 14th, 2010 in General,New Content by Alta

It’s nearing on two months since the last version of our layer was published, and on that occasion we hinted that we were working on moving to a “live” layer.  Having a live layer means that we will be able to make any updates and new entries to the database public at any time – so if you added your project today, you wouldn’t have to wait for a few weeks to see it appear on Google Earth, but would see it the very next day.

We are now getting much closer to having that layer. We anticipate that the process will  take a couple of weeks to complete still, but we can scarcely wait to show you the new map!  We’ve done our best to improve content where you’ve told us to, and the layer is much better off for it – thank you! Please keep sending in suggestions, comments, corrections and of course: content!

We don’t want to give too much away just yet, but at a minimum you can expect much improved content for southern and east Africa, and a substantial number of new protected areas for central and west Africa.

More news soon!

An update on protected areas

Posted on March 16th, 2010 in General,New Content by Alta

As we mentioned in our newsletter a month earlier, we’re hoping to have all protected areas and critical habitats (areas like biodiversity hotspots, key biodiversity areas and important bird areas) added to the map come June 30 2010. To help us achieve this daunting task we enlisted the help of two new MAPAers: Kath Potgieter and Peter Levey.

Kath’s job is to add protected areas for countries in west, central and north Africa, and Peters’ is to edit these, as well as to edit and revamp content from southern and east Africa. Although this won’t reflect on the public layer yet, we can tell you that Kath has already added 65 parks, nature reserves and game reserves in Sudan, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and Madagascar to the database. She is now busy completing Madagascar. If you live near or are familiar with protected areas in any of these countries, and would like to have a look at the information presented for your area, please contact us. We are always looking for ways to improve the quality of content.

Virunga National park

Peter has also been working to revamp protected area content in phase 1 areas. He’s edited and revamped all countries in southern and eastern Africa save for Ethiopia, parts of Kenya and Uganda.  These three countries should also be completed soon.

As for critical habitats: we are currently busy with major revamps in the way we present these and have been talking with many of the large NGOs to find the best way to represent “their” critical habitat type. We will fill you in with more news soon!

Unfortunately you won’t be able to see any of this content yet, as the public layer is not updated automatically as we add content. In fact, it’s quite a process to get the layer published as a static, public layer  - a task that Google Earth Outreach generously helps us with at present. However, we are working to turn the layer into a “live” one, where updates like new protected areas and projects will appear on a weekly or even daily basis. The next time the layer is “updated” it will be in this format. We’re still some way off getting that right, but please keep adding content or let us know if you would like to “adopt” a protected area that we haven’t represented well.

More news soon.

-          The MAPA team

New version of the MAPA layer now available

Posted on February 24th, 2010 in General,New Content by Alta

Thanks to enormous assistance  from Google Earth Outreach, a new version of the MAPA layer is now available. If you already have the MAPA layer loaded on your computer, there is no need to load it again. The changes should reflect on the layer the next time you open Google Earth.  Alternatively, simply download it here.

You’ll notice a few changes from the last version of the layer: we’ve improved and increased content for protected areas in most countries, and blogs and research projects that were on the layer before have also been updated.  If you’ve added or corrected  content after the 28th of January 2010, this won’t reflect in this version of the layer, nor will any of the critical habitats. We’ll keep you posted as to when you can expect to see these updates.

For this version of the layer, one of first changes that you’ll notice is that all research projects and blogs seem to have disappeared when you first open the layer, but they are still there! Just zoom in a little to see their place-markers appear.  Zoom in even more and you’ll also see points popping up one by one. We decided to go for this “thinner” look to minimize clutter – Do you agree that this cleaner version is easier and more elegant to use? Or did you prefer the older version? Please  let us know your thoughts either way!




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