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!


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