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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Go on a tour of Mkhambathi Nature Reserve in Google Earth

Posted on June 24th, 2013 in Featured Conservation,General,Google Geo Tools,Media,New Content by Alta

Protected areas are the cornerstone of global conservation efforts. They maintain functioning natural ecosystems, are set to act as refuges for biodiversity and maintain ecological processes that provide valuable ecosystem and cultural services to society.

Yet the idea of setting land aside for safeguarding and public enjoyment didn’t come about because of some cost-benefit or sustainability analysis or ecosystem service valuation. Rather, for hundreds of years, people who have advocated and worked to set aside special areas, be they indigenous communities in Ghana, or early advocates of the more modern concept of national parks, were driven to do so by a much simpler motivation: a love of nature.

To paraphrase the Senegalese naturalist Baba Moual: ultimately, we protect what we love.

However, whereas there is no shortage of places in Africa to love, we can only love what we know, or at least, know about. And in a world where our lives are increasingly disconnected and removed from nature, “to know” might require someone to tell us about our special places, what makes them so, and why they’re worth protecting.

One person who realizes the importance of this is photographer and writer Scott Ramsay.

In June 2011 Scott set off on his first “Year in the Wild”. In just over a year, he travelled to 31 of South Africa’s national parks and nature reserves. He interviewed rangers, community leaders, ecologists, activists, researchers and school kids, and translated what he had learned and discovered through photographs, blog posts, and magazine articles. His aim: to promote the appreciation of these wild places and to inspire people to go and visit them for themselves.

For best viewing, you can also play the tour in Google Earth. Download the KMZ file (17MB) for Google Earth by clicking on this link: http://goo.gl/AozLj

Being in the business of making conservation more visible and accessible ourselves, albeit through maps rather than photographs, we recently teamed up with Scott to create a virtual tour of the Wild Coast’s Mkhambathi Nature Reserve.  In combining the contextual power of Google Earth with Scott’s captivating photographs, we hoped that we could better share not only images, maps and information, but a little piece of what Scott calls “Mkhamathi’s special soul”.

In the video above you can see the result of that collaboration and, in three-and-a-half minutes, virtually travel to this little Wild Coast wonder. We hope that, through Scott’s photographs and the beautiful landscapes revealed in Google Earth, you will be sufficiently seduced by the cascading waterfalls, beach-trotting antelope, soaring vultures, rolling hills of grasslands, swamp forest patches and wild, pristine beaches  to go in search of ways you can experience Mkhambathi for yourself.

You might just find yourself falling in love with it.

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MAPA newsletter: Towards a more complete conservation map

As the southern hemisphere spring makes way for the South Easters, sweltering heat and thunderstorm skies of African summers, we look back on the last three months to find a more complete picture of African conservation slowly emerging on our map as it sprouts more and more points of conservation interest. Here is our latest newsletter.

Important Bird Areas are on the map!

Given limited resources,  conservation triage requires that we favour some areas over others in order to make sure we conserve the most important places on the planet, and as much biodiversity as possible.  However, determining where these critical areas are can be tricky and costly, and so, in the absence of perfect ecological knowledge,  biologists have to look to taxa that can be relied on to reflect  the overall biodiversity and ecological value of a particular area.

As a generally well-studied, often well-travelled, ubiquitous taxa found in nearly every habitat on earth, birds are considered to be particularly good at being such indicators.  Areas that are important to the conservation of birds are thus likely to be important to other biodiversity too, which is one of the reasons we are particularly pleased that all 1218 African Important Bird Areas can now be found on our conservation map.  Read more here.

MAPA in Africa Geographic

Africa Geographic has surely set the gold standard for relating African conservation stories to the public and this would be reason enough for us to be happy about being featured in this magazine.  However, our spread in their November edition is also significant in that it speaks to one way we hope our map will be useful to conservation, namely to connect environmental journalists with conservation and wildlife stories that need the public’s attention.

Africa Geographic has kindly made the article available to us, so you can read more about our (short) history and hopes for the future by viewing the PDF here.

Working for Water projects infest South Africa

In the 17 years that the Working for Water programme has been running, this massive effort has received international praise for its innovative approach to the eradication of invasive alien plants. The programme has provided more than 20,000 people from marginalised communities with jobs, and runs 321 projects countrywide, spanning more than 150,000 land clearing units (NBALs) totaling more than a million hectares.


All 321 of these projects, as well as the 150,000+ NBALs have now been added to MAPA’s conservation map.  Each clearing unit contains information on targeted species, money spent and jobs created for that specific area, information only available in GIS files housed at the Working for Water offices until now. Currently the clearing units are only downloadable by province, via the “footprint” tab on the Google Earth layer, but we look forward to bringing you smaller, more manageable NBALs for individual projects, as well as more Working for Water news, very soon.

Google Geo Tool workshop in Johannesburg

In an attempt to take our map to Africa’s conservation community, teach them how to get the most out of it, and equip them with more tools to visualise their efforts spatially, MAPA has put on a number of Google Geo Tool workshops this year.  Most recently, we found ourselves in Modderfontein, Johannesburg where, together with the Endangered Wildlife Trust, we hosted more than sixty conservationists from as far afield as Kampala and Bulawayo at two back-to-back three day workshops.  Read more about our jolly to Jozi in this blog post.

Sticking with the Endangered Wildlife Trust…

From it’s humble beginnings as a tiny nonprofit  ran from conservation legend Clive Walker’s garage in 1973, the EWT has grown into one of the most well-respected conservation organisations on the continent.  Today, the red and white cheetah pawprint is synonymous with on-the-ground-conservation action addressing some of Africa’s most pressing conservation issues.  There are more than 70 of these projects across Africa, and, as of last month, you can find them all on the searchable conservation map, or on our Google Earth layer.  We hope you enjoy exploring!

Special focus on Zimbabwe

To say that Zimbabwe has had a tough time politically is a little bit like saying that Nandos ads tend to elicit reaction. However, despite the challenges it faces, Zimbabwe’s conservation community is alive and well, and doing great work. In the coming few months, with the help of our friends at the Dambari Wildlife Trust and other Zimbabwean conservation organisations, one of our main focuses will be to get a comprehensive inventory of Zimbabwe’s conservation efforts up on the map. If you can help us with this task, please get in contact!

On that note, we sign off for this quarter. For more news and updates, follow us on Twitter, Facebook or on our brand new Google+ page!


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Bongo or Bust: Mark Eveleigh writes about MAPA in Ghana

Posted on May 2nd, 2011 in General,MAPA expeditions,Media by Alta

Travel Journalist Mark Eveleigh formed part of the recent MAPA Project expedition to Ghana.  He wrote several blog entries for MAPA during this time (read them here) and more recently published an article about their trip in Esquire magazine:

Read the article here


Life of (your work here)

Posted on April 15th, 2011 in General,Get Involved!,Media by Alta

Yesterday I had the great privilege to attend a question and answer session with Sir David Attenborough at the Kirstenbosch Research centre here in Cape Town.

The session was organised by the Percy FitzPatrick Institute for African Ornithology, largely for students of the Fitz and Zoology department at UCT.  By the time he got to Kirstenbosch, Sir David had been in the country for 24 hours, in which time he had already given a vice-chancellor’s lecture at UCT, was interviewed by Cape Talk radio, and attended several smaller events.

Despite that, he answered questions from the floor with humility, sincerity, humour, and thoroughness, fascinating and educating us with stories and insights from his incredible life. It was an extraordinary occasion indeed for all who attended.

Education is, of course, not something that is new to Sir David, being the grand master of ground breaking natural history documentaries and books that have brought the natural world into our living rooms and hearts and have undoubtedly spawned many a fossil collector, entomologist, mammalogist, ornithologist and conservationist.

So it was perhaps unsurprising that one of the topics that surfaced a few times in yesterday’s discussion was the use of media to convey really important information founded in research and conservation.  The media, Sir David said, has a responsibility to these on-the-ground-practitioners to tell their stories, and share their information and findings with the public.

Even less surprising, then, that Sir David should be the patron of ARKive, an initiative that is doing just that, and one of our earliest partners.  ARKive, if you haven’t visited their site yet, is an online library of wildlife images, video and audio clips, organised by species (focusing particularly on those in peril) – watch their introductory video below.

ARKive is an invaluable resource and a wonderful contribution from those who (largely) reside in media. But these days it is no longer only the traditional media that can tell the story of the natural world and the threat it faces – and no longer only the media who carries the responsibility to.  With a myriad of (often free) platforms that allow the upload of videos, pictures, and datasets, and the ability to create blogs, websites and maps, there is no longer any excuse to lock good and important information away in peer-review journals or reports, making it inaccessible to the general public and people who need to make decisions about our world.

This, of course, one of the reasons that MAPA exists. Our hope is that researchers and conservation practitioners can use the (little) tool that we’ve created – a map built on a (big) visualization platform (Google Earth, if you were unsure!) – to put their information out there.

So what we’ve created is a place for you to go online, fill in a form with text, pictures, videos and links and literally, put your project on the map, or, if you wish, create your own map from this bigger map for your own purposes (more on this next week). And one of the ways that we help you put that together, is by dipping into the audiovisual treasure chest that is ARKive.


How do we do that?  When you add a project, you can go to the wildlife tab (see below), search and select the species that you are working on, and update your bubble. Now when users click on that species, they will be flown off to the ARKive page for that species, where they can explore facts, videos, and photographs.  “Your” study species not on the list? Search the ARKive database and add it! Just please remember that you can only add ARKive images in the species tab of your project bubbles – if you want to use their information elsewhere, be sure to obtain the necessary permissions.


Our map isn’t the only way you can view ARKive in Google Earth, of course. ARKive has created several very high quality Google Earth layers – explore these from the Google Earth Gallery.

MAPA article in Quest Science magazine

Posted on September 1st, 2010 in General,Media by Alta

Quest – Science for South Africa is a quarterly publication of the Academy of Science for South Africa. It is a popular science magazine which is distributed to selected schools and institutions. The magazine aims to highlight the achievements of South African scientists and to stimulate an interest in science and its importance in society among South African youth and the general public.

The latest edition, available here, carries an article on the MAPA Project.  Here is an excerpt:

“However hard you look, you won’t find a website that tells you everything you want to know about Africa’s parks and wildlife reserves. That’s surprising since this continent is the only one with significant populations of large mammals – the so-called megafauna.

There are a few of reasons why no-one can tell you how many parks there are, or what’s in them, but the most important one is that no-one knows.

The MAPA Project was initiated in an attempt to put that right. In association with Google Earth (probably the best online mapmakers), Tracks4Africa (probably Africa’s best GPS mapmakers), and conservationists all over Africa, this project hopes to change the way the world sees this continent….”

“However hard you look, you won’t find a website that tells you everything you want to know about Africa’s parks and wildlife reserves. That’s surprising since this continent is the only one with significant populations of large mammals – the so-called megafauna.
There are a few of reasons why no-one can tell you how many parks there are, or what’s in them, but the most important one is that no-one knows.

The MAPA Project was initiated in an attempt to put that right. In association with Google Earth (probably the best online mapmakers), Tracks4Africa (probably Africa’s best GPS mapmakers), and conservationists all over Africa, this project hopes to change the way the world sees this continent….”

Read the full story here

MAPA in Geographical

Posted on March 3rd, 2010 in General,Media by Alta

Mark Eveleigh recently authored an article on the MAPA project for Geographical

Mark Everleigh

“From somewhere out on the heat-rippled savannah, a harsh cough surprises me. I look up from my laptop monitor into the glare of the sun to see seven lionesses staring at me. They are spread across a rock not more than 70 metres away and have a look of hungry alertness in their amber eyes.

I have been working for more than an hour, feet up on the bullbars of the Land Rover, leaning back comfortably under the soothing heat of Uganda’s highland sun. The lionesses are clearly not stalking me, but I get the impression that they’ve been watching me for quite some time.

One of my primary motivations for coming to the remote Kidepo Valley was to see some of the area’s famous big cats. But apart from a fleeting glimpse of a shadowy pride stealing across the savannah on my first evening, this is my first clear sighting. And now, I have the unsettling impression that the watcher had become the watched; the hunter the hunted.

Kidepo Valley is often described as Africa’s most beautiful national park. Its 1,442 square kilometres of lush green savannah and palm-fringed watercourses nestle among a sensuous curve of steely blue mountains. Kidepo is picture-postcard perfect in a technicolor, widescreen, Lion King sort of way, yet it is almost unknown, and attracts only a handful of tourists. We have come here as part of the MAPA Project (Mapping Africa’s Protected Areas) with the express intention of shining some light on Uganda’s unknown wildernesses…”

Read the full article here

MAPA in the news

Posted on February 22nd, 2010 in General,Media by Alta

CNNTraveller recently published an article on March Turnbull and the MAPA project


By Mark Eveleigh


“A month ago we had trekked illegally into Congo. Now I squinted at our Land Rover’s onboard GPS and realised that our little convoy and its escort of AK47-toting Ugandan rangers had invaded Sudan.

The arbitrary lines that were once drawn out between all-powerful colonial authorities – with little consideration ever given to geographic formations, much less tribal boundaries – are, even today, hard to discern when you are on the ground in the endless expanse of the African wilderness.

Well over a century ago Joseph Conrad wrote about the hauntingly mysterious empty spaces on the African maps. ‘Blank spaces of delightful mystery,’ he called them and his only worry was that they might all have been filled in before he had a chance to explore them.

Yet even today much of the African wilderness remains as mysterious and enigmatic as it ever was and reliable maps can be notoriously difficult to come by. Now a fleet of expedition-equipped 4WDs has set out from South Africa to map the continent’s last uncharted wildernesses. In what has been described as an insanely ambitious transcontinental scientific relay race on a monumental scale, the project is attempting to map every protected area on the entire continent.

March Turnbull, the founder of the Mapa Project (Mapping Africa’s Protected Areas) explains how the idea came about: ‘I had been the development director for the Peace Parks Foundation and was working as a freelance photojournalist. I was finding it increasingly frustrating that there was no reliable, central website where I could find a good depth of information on Africa’s national parks. I could never quite grasp how these parks fitted together in the big picture of African conservation or, more worryingly, why they didn’t…”

Click here to read the full article