Building an accurate, up-to-date map of African protected areas is no mean feat. Different designations mean different things in different countries, deproclaimed areas aren’t always removed from country datasets, protected area websites may be dated or non-existent, and lets not even get started on boundaries. So how do we do it, then? The short answer is: we don’t.
When MAPA released our African conservation map, it only comprised a “skeleton” of protected areas (as well as critical habitats and projects). The idea was that this “skeleton” would be the foundation on which local conservationists and an interested and knowledgeable public would build by contributing their own specialist knowledge. We hoped that this would, in time, result in an accurate, up-to-date and well-maintained map.
But how did we go about assembling this skeleton? We’ve focused a lot on projects this year (and will continue to do so into the new year), but in this two-part blog post we’ll shed some light on how we went about creating the network of protected areas you see on the map. We’ll explain which protected areas were added, and why, where we got our data from and how we went about populating the information bubble you see appear when you click on a green-hand icon.
In part 1, we focus on the “wildlife” tab in the information bubbles. We’ll focus on the spread of protected areas and the displayed dataset in part 2.
Where did we get our wildlife information from?
When you click on a protected area’s wildlife tab, you’ll typically see a number of species names and linked thumbnail images. Each of these image thumbnails click through to more information on a particular species, and many link through to ARKive species fact sheets. If you’re not familiar with ARKive, I encourage you to check out their website and explore their incredible library of broadcast-quality wildlife videos and images.
The “wildlife” tab wasn’t designed to be a complete species list, but rather a place where the animals and plants threatened with extinction (IUCN Red List status “vulnerable”, “endangered” or “critically endangered”) or particularly characteristic of a park or reserve, are highlighted.
We used a variety of sources, including protected area websites, to decide which species should be listed for different protected areas. However, for some protected areas park-specific information was very thin on the ground – particularly for parks and reserves in West-, Central- and North Africa. For most of these areas, we reverted to the protected area reports compiled by the EU’s Joint Research Commission as part of their Assessment of African Protected Areas information project. These reports, in short, draw on continent-wide datasets and methodologies to provide indices, species lists and other relevant information for 741 of Africa’s protected areas.
The species lists in this assessment comprise mammals, birds and amphibians, drawing records by matching geographic species ranges (obtained from sources like the African Mammals Databank, the IUCN Global Amphibian assessment and BirdLife International) with protected area locations. As it is impossible to have perfect information on all species and where they occur from direct observation, these geographic ranges are often arrived at by using predictive mathematical models. Although critical to our understanding of where animals are relative to critical habitats, protected areas, and threats, modeled ranges will very rarely match actual ranges exactly. However, for our purposes, it does provide a more global (or in this case, continent-wide) picture that can subsequently be improved on a case-by-case basis by local experts.
So how can you improve the map?
On every bubble (like the Okapi Faunal Reserve example shown below) there are three links at the bottom: “Submit Photos”, “Add Comment” and “Send Corrections”.
When you click on any of these links, an email form will appear, asking for your name, email and comment, correction or photograph. You may also choose to submit a comment or correction anonymously. Although we will follow up every reasonable comment, it would help if you add in a justification for your comment, like a reference to the information you’ve amended.
What if I have a complete species list for a protected area?
The “wildlife” tab isn’t the only way we can display species information inside a bubble. As the map is meant to be a conservation portal, it was designed to be very link heavy. If you’re aware of a website with good information on a specific area’s wildlife, you click on “Add Comment” and suggest that we add this link to the bubble. Depending on the nature of the link, it will either appear at the bottom of the bubble, or in the “Media” tab.
Is this the only way I can edit protected areas?
What if you have a lot more information on a protected area? Can you go and edit it yourself? Can you add a protected area to the map? We’ll write about these topics, as well as how we went about choosing which protected areas to the map, and where we got the roads and boundaries from, in part 2 of this series.
If you’d like to comment on this blog post, do get in contact. You can do that either by emailing us directly, by commenting on our Facebook or Google+ pages, or by submitting a comment via any of the content bubbles, or from our back-end. We’d love to hear your thoughts!
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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!
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