Calling African adventurers and naturalists

Posted on May 24th, 2011 in General,Get Involved! by Alta

From when we first started putting together the Google Earth layer of African conservation, the idea has always been for it to ultimately be authored by conservation practitioners, scientists and people in the know. We would put together a skeleton, using the best information we could find from our desks, but then would leave it up to the people in the field to correct, edit, and, most importantly, add to this map to properly and accurately inform the world about Africa’s natural treasures and how it’s being looked after.

We’ve particularly focused this collaborative philosophy on conservation practitioners and scientists, opening the back-end of the map to anyone in conservation to add and edit their work and contribute information on the areas they’re familiar with, but we recognize that these aren’t the only people “in the know”.

You may not be a conservation practitioner, or scientist, but you may still have a keen interest in a particular protected area, or might have a better picture to illustrate a park or a country than we currently have on the layer. You may notice a mistake that we’ve missed, a link that doesn’t work, a fact that’s not quite correct, or you may notice a project in your area that you would like to get involved in, or have information for.

If any of the above describes you, we would like to ask your help! We recognize that your input is ultimately needed to make this map a useful, collaborative and credible information resource.  If you have information or comment about a particular area or action, we want to add it, fix it, and know about it.

For this reason, we have, in every bubble on the map, included three links that you  can use to communicate these thoughts and materials to us: “submit photos”, “add comments” and “send corrections” (illustrated in the Iona National Park example above).  Clicking on any of these links will open a little form that you can use to comment, upload photographs and submit corrections. This gets emailed to us as soon as you click “insert” or “submit”.


We will read your comments, and incorporate, as far as possible, your photos (with proper credit, of course) and will fix any mistakes you notice.  If you are particularly knowledgeable about a particular area, or have any extra information, let us know via the “add comment” tab – we’ll get in touch via email and pick up the conversation that way.

We look forward to hearing your ideas, thoughts, opinions and sharing your material with the world!




Visualizing African conservation from Arusha

Posted on May 16th, 2011 in General,Workshops by Alta

Nestled between the peaks of Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro, many people consider Arusha to be the safari capital of the world – one of the places to visit if you want to see the African wild.  So it’s perhaps appropriate, then, that no less than 600 people tasked with making sure there is something of that wild left to see will be descending on Arusha to take part in the African section of the Society of Conservation Biology & the Association of Tropical Biology’s joint meeting in early June.

Arusha National Park (source: Wikimedia commons)

Going on a safari is one way of learning about this valuable wilderness,  but not everyone can afford and is able to do that.  Besides, when it comes to conserving Africa’s natural heritage, the threats and issues are usually much more complex and comprehensive than what can be seen from the back of a safari truck.  One of the reasons MAPA will be travelling to the meeting will be to give the men and women who do understand this complexity the tools to communicate these issues and threats to the general public, and each other.

Off the back of the enthusiasm that we had for our South African Google Geo-workshops, we will be taking another round of overview sessions and workshops to this gathering of conservation practitioners and tropical biologists.  During the conference, we will run a daily hour-long overview session of the different Google Geo tools,  focusing on a different tool every day. We will also host a hands-on two-day workshop after the conference, during which we will introduce participants to using Google Earth & Maps, Fusion Tables and Open data kit (mobile data collection) to aid decision making, publicize work, and create maps for their organisations and projects. The workshops are kindly being co-sponsored by Google Earth Outreach and will be offered free of charge to conference delegates and (for the two-day workshop only) other conservation practitioners active in the area.

MAPA itself is, of course, in the business of making conservation more visible, so we will also be talking about some of the ways conservation practitioners can use our map and tools in conjunction with the tools we’ll be talking about in the workshops to visualize their work.

Are you going to ATBC & SCB Africa in Arusha? Visit our workshop site to find out more and register for one of the sessions! We can’t wait to meet you!

All the world’s a stage: reflections on our Western Cape workshops

Posted on May 5th, 2011 in General,Get Involved!,Workshops by Alta

Here at MAPA, we’re all about making conservation visible and accessible, which is why we’re building a map to highlight protected areas and conservation projects in Africa.  We’ve designed this map as a tool for conservation practitioners to highlight their work and build a picture of conservation in Africa.  However, it’s no good having the tools to build a map and having nobody to build it with – and we’re adamant that the map of African conservation should be built by its custodians.  That’s why we set ourselves the task, this year, to go and gather these builders from around the African continent, find out how we could best develop tools to help them, and enlist their help in putting African conservation on the map.

If you’ve been following us, you will know that when we say that we’re building a map, what we actually mean is that we’re annotating a map. The actual map is already there. It’s called Google Earth. We use Google Earth as a platform to visualize and organize information about Africa’s conservation areas and actions, which is the particular story that we’re interested in highlighting, but there are obviously many other stories that could play out on this stage.  Although millions of people use Google Earth and Maps, the usefulness and ease of these platforms for communicating issues and information that you and I work on and with, are still not that widely  appreciated.

MAPA has been fortunate in that we’ve received much assistance from Google.  We were technically assisted by Google Earth Outreach prior to and after our (first) launch in late 2009, and were also granted a number of Google Earth Pro licences.  However, we also received a  help of a different kind when, at the launch of Google Earth Outreach in Africa, MAPA  and  other African non-profits were shown how conservation practitioners and researchers could get the most out of Google Earth & Maps to communicate their work to others.

Being in the business of helping scientists and conservationists visualize their work using Google Earth, we recently put this training into practice and ran a series of workshops in the Western Cape of South Africa.  The aim was to demonstrate to the local conseration community what is possible with Google Earth, Maps and some other Google tools. We also wanted to start finding enthusiasts who could form the nucleus of an online pan-African conservation community.

So that’s how, at the end of March, we found ourselves hosting just over 100 conservation practitioners from 42 institutions at the Universities of Stellenbosch & Cape Town.  While most participants came from the Western Cape, we had attendees fly and drive in from as far afield as KwaZulu Natal, Gauteng, and Mpumalanga.  We also had two rather special visitors from even further away: Jacqueline Rajuai and Evans Arabu from the Google Nairobi office joined us in the Cape Town trainings, leading the Google Maps sessions, helping out on the floor, offering advice and fielding questions.

Participants could choose to attend one of the seven one-day introductory workshops, and, if they felt like more, register for one of the three “advanced workshops” days. Here they could learn more about Google Fusion TablesOpen Data Kit/Mobile data collection, and, for those master story tellers, advanced narrated Google Earth tours.  In the introductory workshops we covered an overview of Google’s Geo Tools, the basics of annotating Google Earthadding GPS and GIS content to Google Earth, creating narrated tours and building a customized map with My Maps.  In between we sneaked in 30 minutes to talk about the MAPA Project and building a map of African conservation.

In the advanced touring session, we got a little more technical, learning how to tweak KML code (ever so slightly) to create better narrated tours. In the afternoon session, we imported and mapped data in Fusion Tables and collected data on campus on our Android(s) with ODK collect, then met back in the training room to view the data in Fusion tables.  For this session we did an “audit” of the University’s buildings for baboon attractants– not such an unreasonable activity at UCT, where the dispersing young baboon Bart took up residence for a few weeks, a year or two ago.

We hope that we will, in the coming weeks, be able to show you some of the work created by the workshop participants for their own projects using the skills they gained at the workshops . If you attended the workshops, we encourage you to add your material to your project bubble as a “footprint” (kml/kmz files that can be uploaded against your project). These Footprints will display on your bubble like in the example below. When a user clicks on your footprint it will lay down your layer/tour/polygon etc. on Google Earth.

For us, the Earth & Maps workshops were very enjoyable and productive. We’re currently collaborating with many of the institutions that attended the workshops, and we hope that, with their help, as well as yours, we’ll be able to get a major chunk of the Western Cape’s conservation actions on the map by mid-June. We’ve already added about 200 projects to the map, and we hope for many more in the coming months.

We’d like to extend a special thank you to everyone at Google for their support, especially to the Googlers who travelled down to Cape Town to help us run the workshops. We’re also very grateful to the EGS department at UCT and the Conservation Ecology & Entomology department at the University of Stellenbosch for allowing us to host the event using their facilities, and to Snowball Effect who helped us out with a temporary internet connection in Stellenbosch.

If you didn’t attend the workshop, but would like to learn more about how to create content in Google Earth, you can get started on the Google Earth Outreach tutorial page. There are many really great and easy tutorials that will show you how to present your information on Google Earth and Maps.  And don’t forget to add your conservation project to the MAPA database!

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