How we added protected areas to the map: part 1

Posted on December 19th, 2011 in General,Get Involved! by Alta

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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