Citizen science in Namibia

Atlasing in Namibia
Atlasing in Namibia
Brown hyaena (Hyaena brunnea) recorded recently in the Solitaire area
Brown hyaena (Hyaena brunnea) recorded recently in the Solitaire area
Damaraland pygmy toad (Poyntonophrynes damaranus), near Sesfontein – the first record of this species in the Atlasing database
Damaraland pygmy toad (Poyntonophrynes damaranus), near Sesfontein – the first record of this species in the Atlasing database
Large area of Downy thorn apple (Datura inoxia) at Hardap Dam. This is a highly invasive alien plant which causes poisoning of humans, horses, cattle, sheep, and ostrich
Large area of Downy thorn apple (Datura inoxia) at Hardap Dam. This is a highly invasive alien plant which causes poisoning of humans, horses, cattle, sheep, and ostrich

If you ever played I-spy, this is for you.

From the arid desert with a few hardy plants and animals, to the lush Zambezi rivers where over 400 species of birds fly above tall trees, wetlands, fisheries and elephants, Namibia has an extraordinary biodiversity.

As Namibians, we often take our habitat and ecology for granted, but worldwide, agriculture and urban development is reducing habitat and biodiversity at an alarming rate. As citizens or visitors to Namibia, we now have an opportunity to join the scientists mapping our flora and fauna, by creating an atlas of the natural world around us. Knowledge is power; the more we know about our habitat, the better we can conserve it, for us and our children.

A popular definition of citizen science is “the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists”.

Ecologists and other scientists have already built an impressive body of atlasing work in Namibia. Examples include the Southern African Bird Atlas Project, the Tree Atlas Project, bird ringing, raptor road counts, and the giraffe spotter initiative. There is even an atlas of Baboon spiders.

Atlasing in Namibia, to give it its formal name, is a public-participation citizen science project dedicated to widening the scope of atlasing and recording Namibia’s biodiversity. It builds on previous work such as the bird and tree atlasing projects. Data sets collected through public participation are a valuable way to learn more about the distribution of species. You can submit data from live sightings, road kills, photographs, camera traps, telemetry, spoor and any other records. It is part of Namibia’s Environmental Information Service (EIS) and the website address is the-eis.com/atlas.

Who can participate? Everyone! If you have an interest in Namibia’s plants and animals, you can contribute information on what you see. As more people get involved, the value of the information increases.

We want to know about mammals, snakes and other reptiles, frogs and toads, breeding birds and alien plants. The atlas is also an important data repository for historical information and data collected for specific purposes, such as research projects. By bringing Namibia's biodiversity data together, we can enhance their value and usefulness. Comparisons become possible across space and time, as well as between and across species.

Current areas of focus are assessing the status and distribution of Namibia’s carnivores to contribute to the production of a new Red Data Book of Carnivores, and mapping alien plants to tie in with a biological control programme

The easiest way is to participate is to download and use the Atlasing in Namibia app. The app works on both Android and iOS devices. Get full details, and links on the Atlasing in Namibia website: the-eis.com/atlas. You don't need to be online (connected to the internet) to use the app but you do need to have your device's GPS switched on. While you are out and about, record your sightings on your phone. Date, time and location are automatically recorded. Use the "Sync" button to submit your records when you are back online. You can download the app from Google Play Store – just search for “Atlasing in Namibia”. For Apple (iOS) devices, you can find the link here: the-eis.com/atlas/?q=atlasing-in-Namibia-app.

You can also use the website to submit records. It allows you to view, enter and to edit your records and is the method to use if you are entering records from the past or a different location. The website keeps a tally of how many records you have submitted and how many species you have recorded and – for many people – part of the fun is to see how they compare with their friends and colleagues.

Whether you are an avid naturalist, tour guide, farmer, visitor to Namibia or simply someone who loves to be outdoors, now you can play I-spy and upload what you see, helping science and conservation in Namibia.

Next week: A contribution from the field: Atlasing in the arid Eden

Alice Jarvis
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