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!


MAPA newsletter: sharing memories and systemising maps

Posted on June 1st, 2011 in General,Newsletters by Alta

The Southern hemisphere autumn has come and gone, and leaves weren’t the only entity drifting south.  As I write this, the mapping vehicles are on their way back to Cape Town from west Africa, bringing to an end 36 months of mapping expeditions. We’ll tell you more about that soon, but, in the meantime, here is our latest newsletter:

Sharing our adventures

Driving around Africa is, if nothing else, a great adventure. In the last two years we’ve been stuck, sick and stung, we’ve slept in the bush, in trees and hotel parking lots. We’ve spent our days with crocodiles, lions, hippos and tsetse flies. We’ve been saddened, surprised, stunned and inspired.  And along the way, we’ve collected maps, gps tracks, photographs and many special memories. Our mapping may be coming to an end, but we’ve only just begun to share our adventures.

To start out with, we’ve been, quite modestly, adding a few slideshows to some of the park bubbles on the Google Earth map, and have put up few photo albums (like the one above of Katavi National Park) on our Facebook Page. We’ll keep adding to these regularly and are also – without giving too much away – working on  a few more exciting ways to share our most memorable mapping moments.  Look out for that a bit later this year.

From Cape to (half-way to) Cairo

In March and April we hosted a few Google Geo tool workshops to get to know the South African conservation community a little bit better and impart the  knowledge we’ve been equipped with to people who could use these tools to make conservation more visible and accessible.  We had a wonderful time with the keepers of the fairest Cape and are looking  forward to meet more custodians of African conservation when we travel to Arusha, Tanzania in ten days’ time to repeat a similar exercise at the joint meeting of the Association of Tropical Biology and the African section of the Society of Conservation Biology.

A time-animation of shark dorsal IDs recorded near Gansbaai, Western Cape, South Africa (data: Adrian Hewitt)

We’re looking very forward to share the efforts of these conservation practitioners with you on our map, in our blog postings and on our (very new) Facebook and Twitter pages.

A big, big thank you to Jacqueline Rajuai and Evans Arabu for travelling down from the Google Nairobi office to help run the trainings, and to Google Earth Outreach for co-sponsoring the Arusha event.

A visual classification of effort

One of the questions sir David Attenborough was asked when he recently visited Cape Town was what field of science he would encourage young people to partake in.  He answered without hesitation: taxonomy.

Now, I have to be honest: being someone who’s worked on the more charismatic end of the zoological study field spectrum, I can’t say that I ever really envied the sorters and organisers in the department.  Finding taxa’s correct place on the tree of life is not exactly filled with heart-stopping moments, at least not once the data collection is done (not counting the passionate debates that rage amongst these investigators).

Yet, we owe almost everything we know about the natural world to the classifiers:  before scientists could even begin to understand how the world works and why it works in that way, there first needed to be a large collective effort to describe and organize it to make sense  of the way it is pieced together.

When it comes to conservation effort, the way things work  (or sometimes don’t work),  isn’t always all that clear. There are huge ineffeciencies in the field as people replicate projects and work separately from similar efforts, and there’s no real way of telling whether conservation, as a collective effort, is being successful.

All over the world, this is slowly changing, with people like the Conservation registry and ConPro leading the way in cataloging conservation effort in a systematic way. This “systematic way” is, in fact, a standard set by a body called the Conservation Measures Partnership – a partnership of conservation organisations that seek better ways to design, manage, and measure the impacts of  conservation actions.

MAPA has fully embraced this standard and, as of last month, when you record your project in the database, it will be done to these specifications. Have a look for yourself, and don’t be shy to criticise!

We’re hoping that this latest effort will not only help us visualise conservation, but also organise it in a way that will make it searchable and the underlying knowledge more usable in a wider context.

On a more personal note

May was the month that we said goodbye to a much-loved and  highly-valued member of our small team.  Taking a break from her regular days of wandering with wild dogs, Kath Potgieter joined us at the beginning of 2010 to research content for the map, in particular for protected areas in west-, central- and north Africa.  Not simply content with exploring the “wild west” virtually, Kath also did (parts of) it from a place she is extremely comfortable being: behind the wheel of a four-wheel-drive.  It’s a place she’ll soon be returning to when she goes back to study the predators whose conservation she is so passionate about.

Kath, we’ll miss you, are proud of you, and wish you all the best with the goals you’ve been working towards with such dogged determination!

The MAPA girls in west Africa - Kath is on the right.

And Finally

This project wouldn’t work without collective input. As always, a big thank you to all who have contributed content, comment, criticism and encouragement. Please keep contributing!