Not all who wander are lost… Mount Kilimanjaro National Park, Tanzania

Posted on November 13th, 2014 in Featured Conservation,General by March Turnbull

I’ve been sitting on the top of Kilimanjaro.   Mostly I was sitting because I was completely finished – hiking nearly six kilometres up will do that to you.  But the real reason I was there was because my fifteen year old daughter, Emily, couldn’t be talked out of it.   Don’t get me wrong, I was dead keen but it’s an expensive – and risky – undertaking so we had been stalling her for ages.  That strategy worked with the pet pig idea, but not the world’s greatest amateur mountain climb.

 

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Just clearing the cloud line on Kili after three days on the mountain.  
In the background is
Mount Meru, also in a Tanzanian National Park.
On top of the world with daughter
Emily, Musa and Daniel.

 

Call me biased, but I really think it is the best .  Not only is it the highest point in Africa, and the tallest free-standing mountain on earth, but it’s doable.   Yes, Everest is higher but you can’t borrow some ski-kit, take a week off work, and climb Everest.  And you can’t take another week off and revel in Lake Manyara National Park, the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater.

Kili is not trivial.  Uhuru Peak, is higher than Everest Base Camp and most people hike for three weeks to reach that.  The scheduled flight that delivered us from Nairobi to the mountain had a a cruising altitude lower than the summit.

Getting to the top of Kili is hard but the feeling of accomplishment, of having done something extraordinary, is amazing.

There are few things as boring as other people’s holiday snaps, so let me think about our journey a bit differently for a moment.  I spend a lot of time worrying that protected areas are under siege, going backwards, facing insurmountable challenges. Mount  Kilimanjaro National Park is not like that.

I first climbed this mountain shortly before Emily was born, about 16 years ago.  It was dirty and dangerous.  There were no facilities – white flags of  toilet roll (and much worse) littered the barren upper slopes.  We never saw a ranger on the mountain and everyone knew that the $10 we each paid for mountain rescue was a joke.  No-one was coming to help if things went wrong.

How different in 2014!  It’s all so much more organised.  Every porter’s load is weighed, so that that porters aren’t bullied into carrying punishing loads.  Weigh-stations at every camp check that rubbish carried down the mountain isn’t dumped on the way.

Altitude sickness has always been a worry but now you really know when you’re getting into the red zone.

Each night the guides gather their hikers together and measure their oxygen saturation levels and pulse rates.  They also ask lots of questions.  If you are sick, you don’t hike tomorrow.  It’s not fail-safe (it took a Hindi speaker in our party three days to understand the question “Have you had a number two in the last 24 hours…..?”) but the young Londoner who died in our camp when I was summiting back in 1998, would not be left alone, sick and freezing, in his tent today.

It is still dangerous.  We saw several people taken down the mountain on wheeled stretchers, by incredibly strong and committed rescuers.  Heart attacks are apparently quite common and altitude sickness still defeats many.

 

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Hikers’ vital statistics are charted
to help guides assess their fitness to continue.
This porter is taking a stretcher back up through the
rainforest – he took it off his head for the photo….

 

Each camp on the Machame route, now has a few buildings, including an admin hut for signing in and brick long-drops.  There is radio contact all the way up the mountain and even some cell phone reception.  None of that was there in the past.  Yes, the unmaintained toilets are unbearably stinky – the temptation is still to slip behind a rock for a private moment – but it’s a tremendous improvement.

 

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Porters’ loads being
weighed
Signing in at a new hut at 4,600m  The weather can change in minutes

 

It’s not that easy to find good news stories in Africa’s conservation areas but, to the inexpert eye, Kilimanjaro National Park is in better shape than it was 15 years ago.   How encouraging is that?

Interestingly, it wasn’t the classic eco-warriors who motivated the clean up, it was the adventurers. The jobs and revenue they generate are too important to risk by offering a tainted experience.

Kili isn’t the only African national park to tempt the adventure crowd.  You’ll often hear people say that a place is spoiled when it becomes too popular.  Table Mountain National Park recently rerouted some running trails to manage erosion.  Still, you only have to visit less glamorous reserves to see how quickly infrastructure can fall apart.  In the 21st Century, African parks need more visitors, not less.

 

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Running through the main gate at Victoria Falls National Park during the annual marathon event.

 

Earlier this year I ran a half-marathon at Victoria Falls where we had to run through the national park. It was a brilliant event with impala leaping across the road (true) and game guards ready to ward off lions (well, that’s my story!).

The Kruger National Park, like other South African reserves, has hiking and 4×4 trails.  Mountain bikes seems to be everywhere.  In the USA there are running events in all the big parks.

Even if they don’t know what they are looking at, hikers on Kilimanjaro protect giant lobelias as surely as surely as ornithologists in the Kazinga Channel protect shoebills.

 

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Giant lobelias at about 4,000m are part of the unusual alpine flora found just below the high Altitude desert

 

I’ve got the bug now.  Apparently Mount Meru is a much easier climb than Kili and you see plenty of game on the lower slopes.  I did a pretty amazing trail in the Atlas Mountains years ago.  Our parks need visitors and there must be loads of ways to spend time in Africa’s parks other than spotting big game.

 

Where else in Africa can I walk, run, ride and climb in a National Park?  I think we could be doing more of it.

 

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It takes a big team to help you to the top of Kilimanjaro – welcome employment in Moshi District.  One of our climbing companions was Kalpana Dash from India (wearing green).  She has previously summited Everest but still came to Africa to take on our iconic mountain.   

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On Jane Goodall and sharing reasons for hope

Posted on February 11th, 2014 in Featured Conservation,General,Google Geo Tools,Media by Alta

Here at the MAPA Project, we do our best, in our small way, to help conservation organisations and individuals make their work more visible and accessible. One – perhaps the main – reason we do this is because, in the words of Jane Goodall, “Only when people know will they care. Only when they care will they act. Only when they act can the world change”.

Indeed, when it comes to helping people know, and urging them to care and act,  few people have done as much as the incomparable Dr. Goodall.  A few months shy of her 80th birthday, she is still travelling around the world, telling her stories, and, like she can be seen doing here at the University of Cape Town’s Vice-Chancellor’s lecture just last week, spreading messages of hope.

In the lecture, Dr. Goodall expresses the hope that we can find a way of working with our minds and our our hearts in unison, a sentiment I found particularly sincere and fitting, having listened to a presentation  delivered by the Jane Goodall Institute’s vice president of conservation efforts, Lilian Pintea, at Google Earth Outreach’s Geo for Good user-summit in November last year. You might remember that we covered some of the highlights from this conference, including JGI’s  “Goodall, Gombe, and Google” tour, earlier this year.

A screenshot from the JGI “Goodall, Gombe and Google Tour”. Remember that you can create a story like this with your work – Software Advice has a very helpful write-up on how public benefit organisations can use this tool to craft their stories).

As much as Lillian’s talk, on that occasion, was about how JGI is leveraging technology to help them look after Chimpanzees in Africa, it was also a humble and heartfelt story of community, collaborative innovation  and throwing every tool at their disposal at understanding and improving life for chimpanzees and the complex social and ecological systems within which they live. A story of an organisation indeed working with their minds and hearts in unison.

Upon reflection it struck me that, in her UCT address, Jane doesn’t speak of “visions of hope” but “reasons for hope”.  Perhaps she can do this because this is something that she has, both in her personal capacity and through the work of the Jane Goodall Institute and the Root & Shoots programme, come to embody herself.

But don’t take my word for it – listen to her full speech in the video above, or go on a journey to Gombe to learn, through the story of one chimpanzee family, about some of the work JGI is doing with chimpanzees in Africa.

We know that Jane Goodall, the Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots aren’t the only “reasons for hope” in African conservation. We know that many of you have similar “heart and mind” stories . We would love to hear, and help tell, them.

 

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Go on a tour of Mkhambathi Nature Reserve in Google Earth

Posted on June 24th, 2013 in Featured Conservation,General,Google Geo Tools,Media,New Content by Alta

Protected areas are the cornerstone of global conservation efforts. They maintain functioning natural ecosystems, are set to act as refuges for biodiversity and maintain ecological processes that provide valuable ecosystem and cultural services to society.

Yet the idea of setting land aside for safeguarding and public enjoyment didn’t come about because of some cost-benefit or sustainability analysis or ecosystem service valuation. Rather, for hundreds of years, people who have advocated and worked to set aside special areas, be they indigenous communities in Ghana, or early advocates of the more modern concept of national parks, were driven to do so by a much simpler motivation: a love of nature.

To paraphrase the Senegalese naturalist Baba Moual: ultimately, we protect what we love.

However, whereas there is no shortage of places in Africa to love, we can only love what we know, or at least, know about. And in a world where our lives are increasingly disconnected and removed from nature, “to know” might require someone to tell us about our special places, what makes them so, and why they’re worth protecting.

One person who realizes the importance of this is photographer and writer Scott Ramsay.

In June 2011 Scott set off on his first “Year in the Wild”. In just over a year, he travelled to 31 of South Africa’s national parks and nature reserves. He interviewed rangers, community leaders, ecologists, activists, researchers and school kids, and translated what he had learned and discovered through photographs, blog posts, and magazine articles. His aim: to promote the appreciation of these wild places and to inspire people to go and visit them for themselves.

For best viewing, you can also play the tour in Google Earth. Download the KMZ file (17MB) for Google Earth by clicking on this link: http://goo.gl/AozLj

Being in the business of making conservation more visible and accessible ourselves, albeit through maps rather than photographs, we recently teamed up with Scott to create a virtual tour of the Wild Coast’s Mkhambathi Nature Reserve.  In combining the contextual power of Google Earth with Scott’s captivating photographs, we hoped that we could better share not only images, maps and information, but a little piece of what Scott calls “Mkhamathi’s special soul”.

In the video above you can see the result of that collaboration and, in three-and-a-half minutes, virtually travel to this little Wild Coast wonder. We hope that, through Scott’s photographs and the beautiful landscapes revealed in Google Earth, you will be sufficiently seduced by the cascading waterfalls, beach-trotting antelope, soaring vultures, rolling hills of grasslands, swamp forest patches and wild, pristine beaches  to go in search of ways you can experience Mkhambathi for yourself.

You might just find yourself falling in love with it.

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Shark spotting in Cape Town: mapping a social and conservation success story

Posted on May 8th, 2013 in Featured Conservation,General by Alta

Conservation is as much about people as it is about the environment. This is nowhere more true than in Cape Town, a city in the centre of biodiversity hotspot, where we are lucky enough to wake up to pristine beaches and panoramic views of our mountainous world wonder.

In fact, we have our own national park and marine protected area, right in the middle of our greater city. However, unlike with other national parks, where there are fences and camps and rules to stay in your car, we live in ours. We hike, run, walk and rock-climb our mountain, and we sail, kayak, swim and surf in our bays. As a consequence, sometimes, like when a spate of shark attacks occurred off the False Bay coast in 2004, we have to find new ways to live with some of the other species that call this very special place home.

The Shark Spotters programme is a now-celebrated example of what happens when a community rises to that challenge. If you had recently visited some of our False Bay beaches, you will know that there is a flag system in place to help water users know how safe it is to be in the ocean. Shark spotters, men and women from local communities that are employed full-time by the programme, are positioned with polarised sunglasses and binoculars at strategic elevated points along the coastline. When a shark is spotted, they radio this information to the beaches, where a white flag with a black shark is raised, and a siren sounded to warn bathers to get out of the water. The sightings are also live-tweeted, and immediately reported on their website.

The Shark Spotter flag warning system as explained on Muizenberg beach. Photo copyright Shark Spotters.

Shark spotting started on an ad-hoc basis in Muizenberg after the mentioned attacks of 2004, when avid surfer Greg Bertish asked car guards working in the area to keep a different kind of watch from the mountain, and warn him through the use of their cell phones of any sharks visible in the area. The programme eventually formalised, after Greg, together with (now) long-time shark spotter Rasta and Dave and Fiona Chudleigh sourced funds from the local surf community and local business, receiving enough sponsorship to install the first flagpole, signal system, siren alarm, and set up the first mountain watch.

The system was subsequently adopted by the Fish Hoek lifesaving club, followed soon after by the City of Cape Town and WWF’s involvement. Today, the project is supported by the City and the Save Our Seas Foundation as primary sponsors, and shark spotters are on duty 365 days a year at five of the sharkiest False Bay beaches, and at three more locations during peak seasons.

More than 1,300 sharks have been recorded since the programme started, most of these in summer, when there is both an increase of shark movement inshore, and water users in the Bay. To illustrate the extent of the programme and the work they do, we worked with the Shark Spotters Programme to create this map using Google Maps Engine lite,  an easy-to-use new tool for creating beautiful maps quickly. The map features the locations of Shark Spotters along the False Bay coastline, as well as all reported white shark sightings this past summer. Incidentally, you can learn how to make this map by taking this tutorial authored by Google Earth Outreach using the Shark Spotter data.


 

 

Innovation isn’t stopping anytime soon for this local success story. Whilst the spotters are still steadfastly spotting sharks from our mountain sentinels, the programme also continues to work with communities, businesses and government to raise funds for the programme, research shark behaviour off the False Bay and South African coast, educate and raise public  awareness, and find new ways to keep Cape Town bathers and the spectacular fish that swim of our shores, safe.

 

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Find biodiversity GIS for all South Africa’s municipalities

Posted on September 6th, 2012 in Featured Conservation,General,New Content by Alta

Municipalities play a significant role in biodiversity conservation in South Africa. Not only are they tasked to provide a safe and healthy environment for their residents, they also have to manage land for development and look after threatened ecosystems and wildlife within their boundaries.

To inform these high-stake decisions, municipal authorities, as well as the interested parties they serve, need to have access to good information about biodiversity and sensitive areas in their municipal area.

Recognising how important availability to this information is, scientists from South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), have put together municipal biodiversity summaries for every municipality in South Africa. The biodiversity summaries contain statistics for biodiversity features and terrestrial biodiversity summary maps, all downloadable as shapefiles, as well as a series of fact sheets about the projects.

These information pages have been available on BGIS (SANBI’s distribution catalogue for spatial biodiversity data) since 2010, and now, as of this week, this entire dataset can also be accessed on MAPA’s registry of African conservation.

Simply search for [your municipality BGIS] (e.g. [Ngqushwa BGIS])  to find the link to biodiversity information for your municipality, and click on “read more” to access the project page for that municipality.

Remember that, by clicking on the share button, you can also access a URL link to the results of any search, embed it in a webpage, or download it for viewing in Google Earth or as a PDF.

We are very excited about our developing relationship with SANBI, and hope that this will be the first of many collaborations in which MAPA can help to make relevant conservation information more visible and accessible.

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This world water week, join us on a bicycle ride through African Conservation

Posted on August 31st, 2012 in Featured Conservation,General by Alta

This week the world has water on its mind, as scientists and policy makers from all over the globe convene in Stockholm to discuss water and food security. Earlier this year, between February and July, a much smaller delegation made up of only two young South Africans (Alex Antrobus and Murray Beaumont) and their bicycles, pondered similar issues as they cycled more than 7000km through sub-Saharan Africa to raise money and awareness for clean drinking water.

Travelling through Africa overland can be challenging at the best of times, even in a motor vehicle that offer shelter from headwinds, thunderstorms and Africa’s scariest animal (the Tsetse fly, in case you had a mammalian carnivore in mind!). However, one perk of choosing muscle power over diesel, aside from its climate friendliness and fitness benefits, is that it offers the opportunity to go slower, and to see way more.

During their travels, Alex and Murray did see more. They saw more than just beautiful African landscapes, the odd curio stop, and interesting African people. They saw African environments, cultures and context. And now they would like to share their encounters with African conservation – parks, people, practitioners, with you.


Credit and Copyright: Amazi Awethu

For the next three months or so, Amanzi Awethu will use MAPA’s registry of African conservation to relive, and retell their journey through a conservation lense. They will be updating and uploading parks and projects they travelled through and came into contact with as they made their way through South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, and will be sharing some of their stories with you while they do so.

If you missed their journey the first time around, you can follow this virtual sojourn on this blog, as well as on our Twitter, Google+ and Facebook pages. If you can’t wait that long, you can read all about their journey on the Amazi Awethu! blog, as well as on their Facebook page. We can’t wait to start this ride!

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MAPA Newsletter: New Developments and Northerly Drives

In the last three months we’ve been learning more about Zimbabwean conservation, released a brand new user-interface for finding and adding conservation projects , and have started to prepare for an exciting new workshop in Cape Town.  Here is our latest newsletter:

A brand new project user-interface and search page

One of our main jobs is to build a catalogue and map of Africa’s conservation projects. How well we achieve that almost entirely depends on how many conservationists use our website to add their work, which in turn largely depends on how easy it is for them to use it.

After quite a few iterations of just-not-quite-getting it right, we were excited to announce the release of a much cleaner and simpler new user-interface in March.  But don’t take our word for it – try it out yourself! Head over to mapa.maproject.org to search the database for protected areas, critical habitats, and of course, contributed conservation projects from across the continent. Then map your search in Google Earth!

Can’t find your project in the database? Add it! Simply register as a user, login, and fill in your projects’ details. As soon as you choose to make it live, others will be able to find it in the database, and see it on our Google Earth conservation map.

We hope that you’ll enjoy using this new system – as always, we’d love to hear your thoughts and criticisms!

Zimbabwe Drive

At the end of March, with the help of our friends at Africa Geographic & Tracks4Africa, we embarked on a two month mission to get Zimbabwean conservation on the map – a drive that saw us connect with over a  hundred of the country’s most prominent and dedicated conservationists. During that time, we got to learn a little more about the projects these men and women work at, which include  environmental advocacy in the Zambezi valley, the research,  conservation and welfare of large carnivores,  on-the ground logistical support for Zimbabwe’s parks authorities and sustainable development through agricultural research and public-private partnerships – to name but a few.

 

Many of these Zimbabwean initiatives have already been added to our conservation map, and a few more will be live soon. Look out for that, a report back on the drive, and an exciting partnership with the Green Zambezi Alliance, in the six weeks.

Our Zimbabwean education wasn’t all “distance learning”, though! At the beginning of May, we also had the opportunity to travel up to Harare to meet a small group of Zimbabwean conservationists in person for a three day workshop on how to use Google’s mapping tools in their work, and how to use MAPA’s conservation mapping tool for their own benefit. This blog post has more.

Google Map Maker & Google Map Engine at our Cape Town training

Fresh of our mapping workshop at Mapumula in May, we announced another Google Geo Workshop for June, this time in Cape Town,  at UWC’s brand new Life Science building.

What’s particularly exciting about this training is that it will introduce two tools that are only just becoming available to South Africans, and nonprofits.

Google Map Maker, the tool that allows you to add the points of interests you care about to Google Maps, was launched South Africa just over a week ago. We’re so excited that Evans Arabu from the Google Map Maker team will be joining us at this workshop to show environmentalists how to give parks, reserves, landscape features and those obscure study sites nobody has ever heard of, their rightful and correct place on the map!

Another relatively new Google Geo Tool that will feature at the workshop is Google Maps Engine, a revolutionary geospatial tool that allows organisations to manage their data in the cloud and easily make and share maps using Google Earth, Maps and Android phones. Globally, it’s already being successfully utilised by organisations like World Wildlife Fund, Eyes on the Forest and the Living Oceans Society to manage and publish critical environmental data,  and we look forward to giving our workshop participants a first glance at how this technology can be leveraged for their own organisations.
The Overberg district municipality’s wetlands & critical biodiversity areas, mapped using Google Maps Engine (data downloaded from BGIS: http://bgis.sanbi.org, copyright C.A.P.E)

That’s it for this quarter’s newsletter! We look forward to sharing more conservation stories, tools, and of course, maps, with you in the next three months!

 

 

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Counting cats in the Matopos: The Mangwe Leopard project

Posted on April 25th, 2012 in Featured Conservation,General by Alta

This post is the second in our series featuring Zimbabwean Conservation projects and organisations. This time round, we visit a recently completed project in the beautiful Matobo hills.

The Matopos or Matobo Hills, owes its name (meaning “bald heads”) to the granite kopjes that characterise this unique landscape. The hills cover about 3100 km² and is deemed extremely important culturally (it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2003) as well as ecologically (it hosts over 200 species of trees and the world’s largest concentration of black eagles, to name a few).


 

But it’s not only a site of rock art, trees and birds – the kopjes and wooded valleys offer prime leopard habitat. Although these carnivores have long been known to occur here, until recently nobody really had any handle on the size of the population, their habitat preferences or movement patterns.

Tanith Grant’s project attempted (and succeeded) in addressing these gaps. Over three years, with the help of trained members of the local community, she collected information using telemetry, camera traps and other census techniques that ultimately enabled her to come up with the first population estimate of the predators in the Mangwe area.

This information, together with her spatial movement data, now allow the Zimbabwean Parks and Wildlife authority (ZPWA) to devise and implement better management strategies for the sustainable conservation of a top predator that is both ecologically and economically valuable and affecting.


Photos: Tanith Grant

You can find Tanith’s project on MAPA’s conservation layer for Google Earth. Click here to download the KML file and then double click on the downloaded file to open it in your “Places” panel in Google Earth. Search for “Mangwe Leopard Project” (like in the screenshot below) to find this project (remember that you can add your own project to this map!).

 

Also be sure to check out Rhodes University’s Wildlife and Reserve Management Research Groups’ website to learn more about some of the other research this group is involved in.

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Agricultural Research for development: Cirad’s work in Zimbabwe

Posted on April 17th, 2012 in Featured Conservation,General by Alta

We’re now into the third week of our drive to create a registry of Zimbabwean conservation projects.  As we pick up speed in the buildup to our visit to Harare, we’d like to share with you, in the next fortnight, some of the great work being done by conservation organisations and institutions in Zimbabwe.

The first of these featured organisations is the Centre de coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (Cirad). Cirad is a French research agency that has been conducting applied agricultural research for over twenty years in  Zimbabwe.  Since 2007, Cirad with three other institutions, namely University of Zimbabwe, the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), and CNRS (another French-based research agency), have embarked on a research platform called “Production and Conservation in Partnership” (RP-PCP).

The objective of the platform is to address human-nature conflicts in the periphery of protected areas, including TFCAs.  Research themes addressed are community based natural resource management, agriculture and conservation, functional ecology and animal health and environment.  The RP-PCP with the support of the French Embassy in Zimbabwe and funds from research and development projects, promote post-graduate training (Msc, MPhil and PhD), mostly for Zimbabwean students and when possible for staff from technical services.  So far, the RP-PCP has supported 11 PhDs, 22 MPhil and 8 MSc (with 35% completed).

Land-use differences at the periphery of Protected Areas (photo: A. Caron)

Two examples of Cirad projects within the RP-PCP are their disease transmission projects at the wildlife/livestock interface in Gonarezhou National Park (Greater Limpopo TFCA) and Hwange National Park (Kavango-Zambezi TFCA) – both these projects can be seen on the MAPA conservation layer.

One thing these two parks have in common is that they are both located along international borders and within TFCAs wildlife/livestock interfaces are numerous in these TFCAs (sometimes with fences but often with no physical barrier between land-uses). One of the consequences of these interfaces is the transmission of important diseases (e.g. Foot-and-Mouth Disease, bovine tuberculosis, theileriosis) from wildlife to cattle and vice versa, threatening both conservation and development objectives.

Understanding and managing wildlife/livestock interaction and disease transmission on the periphery of these protected areas and TFCAs is thus particularly critical, and exactly what Cirad and its partners hopes to achieve by fitting GPS collars to both cattle and buffalos and surveying these ungulate populations for major diseases. This issue is important for wildlife conservation, livestock production (and therefore for rural livelihoods) but also for public health as some of these diseases such as zoonoses can be transmitted from animals to humans (e.g. brucellosis, rift valley fever).


Cattle in a dip-tank (left) and interviews with cattle farmers (right) (photos: A. Caron)

The sanitary aspect is only one of the aspects addressed through the RP-PCP. Human-Elephant conflicts, impact of tourism and hunting on the wildlife resource, perceptions of farmers on TFCAs and many other topics are tackled by research students (click here to see and download a leaflet).

Both disease transmission projects, as well as the Research platform have now been added to MAPA’s database and can be found on our Google Earth layer. To explore the great work Cirad does in Zimbabwe in Google Earth, download MAPA’s conservation layer for Google Earth, or visit their website.

 

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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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