The Zimbabwe Conservation Registry drive gains momentum

Posted on February 24th, 2012 in Featured Conservation,General,Get Involved!,Google Geo Tools,Workshops by Alta

What if there was an easy way you could easily find out what work other conservationists in your field were involved in? What they were doing to address the same problems you have? Who were funding them? Who they were collaborating with? What if your project could be visible to others in your field? A public that could contribute? Grant-making bodies that could fund your work?

For the past two years, we here at MAPA have been building just such a tool with our online project registry and map. It’s been showing great potential and we’ve had wonderful encouragement from conservationists from all over Africa, but we also know that it will ultimately only really be useful if enough African conservationists are represented on it. But Africa is a big place! And so we’re tackling this enormous task one country at a time!

A few weeks ago, we told you about our Zimbabwe Conservation Registry drive, an initiative that will see the MAPA Project working with conservationists in Zimbabwe to achieve just such a registry and map for this country of Miombo woodlands, mighty waterways and majestic wildlife.

Thanks to encouragement from the many Zimbabwean conservationists we’ve been in contact with since then, and a generous partnership with Africa Geographic and Tracks4Africa, we can now officially announce that this drive will take place between the 19th of March and the 30th of April 2012. We can scarcely wait!

So what will the Zimbabwe registry drive entail?

The main thing we’ll ask participating individuals and organisations to do is to add an online “project profile” for each of their projects.  If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that anyone can do this do this already. However we’ve been working on more user-friendly input screens to make adding projects even easier and will be making these available just before the start of the drive, together with updated help materials and increased support.

During the drive, we’ll also be supporting conservationists with more ways to make Zimbabwean conservation more visible. Generally, we’ll be updating protected areas and critical habitats on our conservation map. Specifically, we’ll be offering workshops to teach conservationists how to use the MAPA tool for their own organisations, as well as how to use tools like Google Earth, Google Maps and Fusion Tables to highlight and communicate their own data, and the issues they care about. We’ll be going one step further and even help them create these visualisations.

But we don’t want to give too much away! More news on these initiatives soon!

Gifts from Africa Geographic and Tracks4Africa

To make it a little more appealing to go to the trouble of adding a project, our partners at Tracks4Africa and Africa Geographic are offering a few nice incentives to every organisation which loads a project:

  • Every organisation which loads one or more projects will be able to download the latest Garmin compatible GPS map for Zimbabwe & Zambia for free, from Tracks4Africa. It’s a routable map, with 38,000km of roads and over 5,000 points of interest.
  • MAPA, T4A and Africa Geographic will also be doing their best to publicise this effort and give your projects some exposure.

Interested? Follow along!

We’ll be talking a lot more  about the Zimbabwe drive in the coming weeks. If you’re interested in following along, or participating, here are some ways that you can keep abreast of developments:

  • We’ll be sending out a more-or-less weekly email with updates, news and information to our Zimbabwean mailing list. Sign up here, if you’d like to join it! You’ll receive more or less one email a week until the end of April.
  • We’ll be using our social media platforms to make new announcements too and undertake to use these platforms to highlight your efforts by re-tweeting, re-posting and re-sharing – so follow us on TwitterGoogle+ or Facebook.

A big thank you to all the Zimbabwean conservationists who have already weighted in to make this initiative possible.  A special thank you to our friends at the Dambari Wildlife trust, and our partners at Africa Geographic and Tracks4Africa. We certainly couldn’t do any of this without you!


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Help create a registry of Rhino Projects

Posted on February 17th, 2012 in General,Get Involved!,Google Geo Tools by Alta

The MAPA Project exists in large part to help conservationists make the work they do, the wildlife they protect, and the problems that they care about, more visible.

As far as problems are concerned, few would argue that rhino poaching occupies a very central place on the conservation agenda at the moment.

With seemingly insatiable demand for rhino horn in Asia, rhino deaths at the hands of poachers rose sharply in 2011, and soared in 2012. But see for yourself: we created an interactive Fusion Table map of SANParks’ tally, which they released earlier this week. Click on the polygons to explore the situation in each of South Africa’s nine provinces, and in the Kruger National Park.

Rhino poaching is a difficult problem, but there can be no denying that a lot of organisations are doing wonderful work, tackling it from many different angles.  Some run awareness campaigns in Asia, others lobby governments, and others yet help kit out and support anti-poaching rangers.

While it’s great that so many organisations are throwing their weight behind the issue, the general public is often lost when it comes to knowing exactly where to direct their money, and attention. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way that they could find out exactly who was doing what, and where they were doing it?

We think that we can create exactly such a resource…with your help.

How? The MAPA Project upload website allows anyone in conservation to register and add information about their project online (see this video for help).

All you have to do is to add your project here, and whatever you add will appear both on our Google Earth conservation layer and searchable Google map. Not only will anyone looking for information on rhinos be able to find you on the map, but you can also create a custom map of the information that you care about by downloading your search results to Google Earth.

But our map is not the only way we help conservationists make their work visible.

Did you know that (without having to be a programmer) you can create a similar map  from your own data, using a free tool called Fusion Tables? (Here’s a tutorial if you would like to try).

Over the last couple of years, we’ve increasingly used free Geo tools like Google Earth, Google Maps and Fusion Tables to create and help create data stories for our own project, and for other conservationists that we work with….and we’d like you to get the most out of these tools too!

If you have a story, animation or  mapping project that you would like to include in the MAPA Google Earth layer, a report  or your website,  it can probably be done quite quickly using these online tools.   If you prefer to explore and learn on your own, head over to the Google Earth Outreach site to get started. Otherwise, tell us what you want to do and we’ll help, or at least point you in the right direction.

We look forward to hearing from you!

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MAPA 101: MAPA Conservation Map Basics

Posted on February 10th, 2012 in General,Get Involved! by Alta

Update 27/03/2012: We’ve changed this post to reflect our new home for adding projects:

One question we get asked more often than we would like is how one can see the MAPA layer in Google Earth.  If our map is going to be useful to you, it’s pretty important that you know how to see it,  so we thought that it was high time we explained how to do that:

The Short answer: what to do to see the MAPA layer in Google Earth (or in your browser):

Step 1: Make sure that you have Google Earth downloaded & installed (version 6.0 or higher).

Step 2: Click this link to download the MAPA layer as a KML file on your machine.  There are a few other places you could have downloaded it from: Our website (top right hand corner), The Google Earth GalleryThe Google Earth Outreach Showcase or from our browser-based map (top right hand corner).

Step 3: Double click on that file to launch it in Google Earth. It will appear in your “Temporary Places” folder in your “Places” panel and you will see the icons appear on your screen, as shown in the screenshot below.

Remember that you can also see a searchable version of the MAPA conservation map in your browser. Visit to get started.

The Longer Explanation:

One of the main reasons Google Earth can be used to tell such powerful spatial stories is that anyone can add information, be it a simple point or a more complex imported GIS dataset, to the “default” view they get when  they download and install Google Earth.

The fact that anyone can annotate Google Earth and then share that information means that anyone with an important message and informed perspective can communicate their understanding and information, and guide others interested  and affected through this contextualised view of the world.

Whereas anyone can create, save and share content in Google Earth, some organisations and individuals  have leveraged this technology in more advanced ways to create powerful visualisations and informative maps (like ours, we hope!), that have been released to and shared with the world.

However, with few exceptions, these layers are not available in Google Earth by default. Instead, the most common way these maps are shared is by making them available as KML or KMZ files that can be downloaded from organisations’ websites and repositories like the Google Earth Gallery and the Google Earth Outreach Showcase.

There’s nothing really mystical about KML or KMZ files — without getting into the detail, they’re the formats of files that are saved out of, or created for opening in Google Earth. In the simplest sense, our map is just one such KML file that you can download and add to your “Places”, on top of the “default” view of Google Earth.

If you’re still unsure about how to go about  adding KML and KMZ files to Google Earth, here’s a video tutorial to guide you through it.

How does the map work?

Now that you can see the map in Google Earth, here’s a quick explanation of how the map itself is put together (also explained simplistically in the diagram below):

The map  actually consists of two parts: there’s the layer you see in Google Earth, or the searchable version of that in your browser,  and then there’s the online database from which that map  is dynamically generated.

When you download our KML file, you don’t download the actual points and polygons, but a much smaller file that contains just a link to the database. Whenever you open that downloaded file in Google Earth, the link will retrieve the latest data from the database to generate the map.

Once you’ve downloaded the KML file, you won’t have to do it again. The link will always generate the map from the database,  which means that the latest version of it will always be showing on your machine.

Where does my project fit in?

As you may have guessed, when you add a project, you don’t add it directly to the map, but rather to the database that generates the map. All this entails, on your end, is going to a website, registering as a user, and adding your project information by essentially filling in a form.

Once you’re happy with your project, you can just tick the “show live” box on your project and it will automatically on the map. You’ll always have access to your project and you can change and remove anything that you’ve added at any time. Here’s some material to help you along.

We hope this post helps you understand how you can use the MAPA Conservation Map, and participate in it’s development!



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Explore Africa’s Ramsar sites on World Wetlands Day!

Posted on February 2nd, 2012 in Featured Conservation,General by Alta

Today is World Wetlands day, a day that is celebrated every year on the 2nd of February, coinciding with the anniversary of the adoption of the  Convention on Wetlands.  Back in 1971, 18 governments  signed the convention in Ramsar, Iran, undertaking to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance - or designated “Ramsar sites” – and to plan for the sustainable use of all the wetlands in their territories.  Today, the convention has 160 signatories and designated Ramsar sites (there are 1,994 of these) comprise almost 200,000,000 hectares of the earth’s surface.

Did you know that you can find Africa’s Ramsar sites on the MAPA Google Earth layer and African conservation map?  You can explore these sites either by navigating around  and looking for the Ramsar icons, by looking in the critical habitat folder in Google Earth, or searching for “Ramsar” on the web-based map.  Don’t forget that you can also export the map results to Google Earth – just click on “save as kml” in the search results.

Explore nearly 230 sites across the continent, from the unique coastal wetlands of Blue Bay Marine Park in Mauritius, to the vast expanses of the Okavango Delta and the DRC and Uganda’s massive transboundary Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe complex. Travel back in time and witness large-scale environmental change (Lake Chad being a case in point) around some of Africa’s biggest freshwater systems. Or simply marvel at some of the most beautiful places on this continent as you fly into river deltas, desert oases and massive swamps to learn more about these extremely valuable ecosystems.


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