Notes from our first Google Earth/Google Maps training

Posted on May 29th, 2010 in General,Workshops by Alta

You might get sick of us saying this, but we’ll probably say it quite a few times still: the story of conservation in Africa is not one that the MAPA Project can tell! We’re providing the pin- board, but the story of conservation in Africa should be told by conservationists themselves.

However, in the process of building the pin-board (with enormous assistance from Google Earth Outreach , we might add), we’ve been introduced to many great ways to tell stories on Google Earth, and we wanted to share these tools with other conservationists.   Not only for them to tell their stories on the MAPA layer, but also on their websites and blogs, in public talks, presentations and reports.

With this in mind, and armed with the Google Earth- and -Maps training we received in Kampala and Nairobi in October and November last year, we put together our first mini-training with a small group of local conservationists at the University of Cape Town.

On the 7th of May we introduced these eight conservationists (and a few other people listening in) to the basics of creating content in Google Earth and Google Maps. As far as possible we stuck to examples that the attendees were familiar with: their own work!

Workshop 009

Just add conservationists. The venue just before the start of training.

Erick showing us how to add GIS content into Google Earth.

Erick showing us how to add GIS content into Google Earth.

In the workshop we covered the basics of navigating in Google Earth, annotating Google Earth with points, lines and polygons and dressing these up with pictures and videos. We added image-, photo- and screen overlays, and learned how to create narrated tours in Google Earth (like the example below – one that we actually started creating in the workshop).

Later in the day we also spent some more hands-on time in Google Maps and Fusion tables, with two very basic exercises in using Google My Maps to create a custom map, and Fusion tables to merge two datasets and map primate field sites in Africa. We also spent some time learning how to embed content created in Google Earth, Google Maps and Fusion tables in websites and blogs.

If you want to see who attended the workshop, what we got up to, and what material we created in and after the workshop, you can visit our workshop site here. You’ll find links to all the tutorials we worked through in the workshop, as well as links to many more resources from Google Earth Outreach.

Are you interested in knowing how to use Google Earth to illustrate your conservation project or area? Contact us and let us know – we can’t promise to host a workshop in your neighborhood (we’ll try!), but at a minimum we will be more than happy to help you create your story, and point you in the direction of more help material.

If you already have material in. kml- or .kmz format, why not upload it as part of your project to the MAPA layer? When you add a project, we will give you the option to associate a “footprint”, which can be any content that tells a story in Google Earth…be it an image overlay, a tour, an animal track, a species range or even a mini layer!

A final note from our side:  Thank you to everybody who participated in the workshop, especially Andrea Plos who made sure that technical hiccups didn’t scupper the day. Also a big thank you to Julie Sohn from Google and the Google Outreach team for their incredible support in helping us to pull off the first of hopefully many interactive days with conservationists working across Africa.

The story of conservation in Africa – by conservationists

Posted on May 21st, 2010 in General,Get Involved! by Alta

In the last few weeks, we’ve been so encouraged by the number of conservationists who have come on board to help make the layer better. We’d like to share three of these stories with you, although there are certainly many more to tell.

The people working in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique saw Gorongosa on the layer and wanted to improve it. So they went and did just that, providing us with new polygons for the park, and adding more videos and text to the bubbles. Once we go live (more on that soon) the information you see for Gorongosa National Park will be the information added by the people from Gorongosa National Park. A big thank you to Franziska Steinbruck and Vasco Galante for getting in touch with us.


Another example of conservationists showing us the way, is Silvia Weel who contacted us from the PRESENCE initiative - a trans-disciplinary catchment restoration initiative in the Baviaanskloof Mega-reserve involving, amongst others, the Dutch Government, Working for Wetlands/Water/Woodlands, several South African universities, and the Eastern Cape Parks. The Baviaanskloof Mega-reserve wasn’t even on the MAPA layer when Silvia first contacted us. Thanks to her that has now been remedied. Silvia also added all the work that PRESENCE do as a project to the database. This too will be on the new layer.



Another conservationists that has talking to MAPA recently is Louis Liebenberg, of Cybertracker fame. CyberTracker has done some amazing work in the field of animal tracking, their free software having been downloaded more than 40000 times in over 190 countries.  Louis recently attended our Google Earth/Google Maps workshop, and was encouraged by the possibilities of the MAPA layer as an information portal. Thanks to some really encouraging discussions with him, we have now been armed with many great ideas on how we could use the layer and the database as an information tool and make them more interactive. By the way – we’ll give you a full low-down on the workshop soon – an event we very much enjoyed.

These stories are merely a selection of all the help and input that we have received, and they illustrate what MAPA is all about – a collaborative effort to tell the story of conservation in Africa. As more people are climbing on board we are finding areas that we can improve on, new ideas for how to apply the project for more people’s benefit and more ways in which conservationists can communicate and work together. Please contact us with your comments, ideas, suggestions, and problems. Add your conservation project, encourage others to add theirs and help us develop a way for conservationists to talk to each other and the world about the work they do to preserve Africa’s priceless natural heritage.

Mapping in West Africa

Posted on May 14th, 2010 in Get Involved!,MAPA expeditions by Administrator

In November MAPA volunteers will be working in West Africa, visiting parks and reserves across the region with their GPS units and their cameras.

One of the most time-consuming things on this project has been establishing partnerships with national wildlife authorities.  Getting the appointments, exchanging letters of co-operation, and everything else that goes with it, all takes time and money.   It’s always worth it in the end because we get so much support from Wardens and Rangers on the ground – but the paperwork and protocol and can be exhausting!  One way to fast track the process is to collaborate with a local NGO which has national credibility and the contacts.

A fragment of protected forest near Lagos, Nigeria

A fragment of protected forest near Lagos, Nigeria

So we have been very lucky to be working with the Nigerian Conservation Foundation in Nigeria.   They are the most senior conservation NGO in the country and have taken a huge load off our shoulders.  When I visited Lagos recently, they undertook to manage all liaison with the  Nigeria National Parks Service and to support the project on the ground.

Once again I am reminded by how many people there are on this continent who are cheerfully shouldering the immense responsibility of looking after its wildlife – and still have time to help others!

Damola Ogunsesan at Lekki Conservation Centre, Headquarters of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation.

Damola Ogunsesan at Lekki Conservation Centre, Headquarters of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation.

MAPA will work in Nigeria, with two dedicated vehicles, in November 2010.  We look forward to meeting again!


March Turnbull