Throwing our name away: How Mapping Africa’s Protected Areas became just MAPA

Posted on January 27th, 2012 in General,Get Involved! by Alta

(This is Part 2 in our two part series on how we added protected areas to our conservation map. Read Part 1 here).

In late 2008, our small organisation embarked on a logistically ambitious, but conceptually simple mission: visit Africa’s major protected areas, map everything inside them, and make it all available online. The parks we were looking for were those which fall into the category of ‘National Park’ and we estimated that there were about 500 of them.  Unsurprisingly, this is why we called ourselves MAPA – Mapping Africa’s Protected Areas.

In late 2009 with a lot of technical help from Google Earth Outreach, we released our first version which has been incrementally improving ever since.

Quite quickly we realised that while parks and reserves are interesting in themselves, their real value is best seen in the context of associated unprotected land and conservation projects.  So we adapted our database and today we map blogs, points of interest, critical habitats and projects.  Within a couple of years we had worked our full name into retirement!

But Protected Areas remain the central pillar around which Africa’s conservation effort is wrapped and it is worth remembering how difficult it was in the early days to even decide which ones to map.

There is no standard designation for parks across Africa, and many official records are hopelessly out of date.  Initially, MAPA used published sources, like the World Database on Protected Areas, to create a list of parks to map.  That list – certainly incomplete, and sometimes just wrong – was then refined over time.

Most countries in mainland Africa have been visited by MAPA volunteers over the last three years.  While preparing for those trips, we interacted with wildlife authorities, NGOs and conservationists who amended our initial list on a country by country basis.  This nearly always made the list longer.

Secondly, volunteer mappers made it their business to search out reserves that were not on the list. These were often small sanctuaries and private reserves.

Thirdly, we have been lucky to be given data by third parties.  None has been bigger than Tracks4Africa’s entire parks dataset, the product of GPS submissions by thousands of travellers.

So, although we have never had the capacity to research every single protected area, we do think that the vast majority of the ‘important’ ones are on the MAPA layer.  Almost every park and reserve has associated GIS data, usually a boundary, often a road network, sometimes, trails campsites and other infrastructure.

Have we got it all right?  Not by a long shot.  Users of the layer regularly criticise the content of the park ‘bubbles’ in Google Earth and we sincerely welcome that.  There are certainly other important protected areas that are still missing.  We are keenly aware that MAPA does not reflect enough Marine Protected Areas, for example.

Our mission is to improve the quantity and quality of the information available for parks and reserves by ‘Mapping Africa’s Protected Areas’.  We may no longer use that name but it’s still a critical job! We are continuing to do this ourselves; for example, expect to Zimbabwe’s protected area coverage to improve over the next few mons as we concentrate on that country.

However, there are many of you out there who know much more about ‘your’ protected areas than we do. Our mission is no longer conceptually contained, and the map no longer belongs to us. It simply cannot work without your help.

  • Can you see a protected area that is missing, or do you a private one that you would like to add? Let us know.and we will get onto it.
  • Is there a mistake in an information bubble? Comment on it, or correct it.
  • Do you run a conservation project? Add it!

We’re excited about what a dynamic, visible record of African conservation areas and actions can mean to the practice of conservation in Africa, and ultimately, African biodiversity…but we will need your help to create it.

- Posted by March Turnbull and Alta De Vos


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Mapping Zimbabwe’s Conservation Efforts

Posted on January 20th, 2012 in General,Get Involved! by Alta

In our last newsletter, we announced that MAPA, with the help of the Dambari Wildlife trust and a few of our other friends, is embarking on an effort to focus some of our mapping on Zimbabwe specifically. Our hope is that, by the middle of 2012, we’ll have a near-comprehensive inventory of Zimbabwe’s conservation efforts up on the map.

We are now getting ready to launch into action on this drive, and you can expect a very exciting announcement from us on this topic within the next month.

In the meantime, we’re going to need your help to make sure that we don’t leave out anyone that should be on the map.  Thanks to the help of our friends at Dambari we’ve already got an impressive list  going, but we want to make sure we’re not missing anyone. Do you know anyone active in a conservation project in Zimbabwe?  Who should we be adding to the list? Are you doing some work in Zimbabwe?  If you think we should know about anyone or any particular project, fill in this short form (this is for internal use only – we promise we won’t distribute anything) or simply tell us by email.

Please help us get Zimbabwean conservation on the map! If you would like to be notified via email about updates for the “Mapping Zimbabwe” drive, you can sign up for that here.


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Working for Water’s Biocontrol sites now on the map

Posted on January 10th, 2012 in Featured Conservation,General,New Content by Alta

In our last newsletter, we told you that you could find all 321 Working for Water projects, as well as 150,000 of their specifically monitored clearing areas (NBALs) on our conservation map (NBAL sites are currently only available in the Google Earth version).  As we explained, each specific area bubble comprises information on how that area has been managed: the money spent on it, the person days of employment created by clearing it, the dominant alien species targeted and the total number of hectares cleared within it.

How are these areas cleared? Working for Water uses all sorts of methods to keep the aliens in check, including chemical controls (like herbicides), manual methods (like frilling and fires) and biological control, the targeting of aliens by their own natural enemies.

A big reason for the propensity of alien species to become dominant in their new habitats is the fact that they often outcompete indigenous vegetation for nutrients and water, a function of their general resistance to the effects of the local army of plant enemies (mostly insects, mites, and pathogens). Biocontrol is an attempt to remove this competitive advantage by allowing these invaders’ natural enemies to level the playing fields and let the natural vegetation catch up. Though biocontrol agents don’t normally kill their targets, biocontrol is a cost-effective,  sustainable and ecologically friendly method of alien control and an important tool in the fight against invasive plants.

In addition to their projects and clearing sites on MAPA’s conservation map, you can now also find all the places where Working for Water has released  biocontrol agents to target alien invasive plants.  Like the NBAL clearing sites, you can access this layer from the “footprint” tab in any of the Working for Water project bubbles.  Click on “view” and you’ll see all the biocontrol sites, denoted by insect icons (as shown above), appear.  To find out which agent was used and when they were released at an individual site, simply click on the icon.

We’re thrilled that our conservation map can be used to make the scope and activities of one of Africa’s largest conservation initiatives more visible and hope that you will enjoy this newest addition to that story.

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