A champion citizen scientist in Vanrhynsdorp

Salome Willemse is a citizen scientist in Vanrhynsdorp, in the northwestern corner of the Western Cape, just south of one of South Africa’s most important centres of plant endemism, the Knersvlakte. For many years, the chief characteristic of this area was that it was a gap in all citizen science projects. Salome has been the catalyst that is leading the charge in filling that gap.

We wanted to get to know Salome a little better, so we asked her a few questions. Here responses below provide great insight from the perspective of this citizen scientist in Vanrhynsdorp.

BDI: How did you become a citizen scientist? What got you going?

I attended a birding course done by Anton Odendaal in 2013. Soon afterwards I realised that there is little data available for the Namaqualand region and subsequently started the Namaqua Bird Club. As I ventured deeper into the world of birding, I learned about SABAP2. We held a Citizen Scientist Day in Vredendal in 2015 and that day I realised that one individual can make a difference.

Dinner at Botuin
The Citizen Scientist Day initiated a series of BioBashes – each one started with a social event at Botuin, Salome’s home (Photo credit: Les Underhill)

BDI: What has been the highlight for you?

Turning Namaqualand “green”, in other words getting at least full protocol checklists for all the pentads in the northwestern corner of the Western Cape, and also beyond, into the adjacent part of the Northern Cape.

Our citizen scientist in Vanrhynsdorp has been responsible for this enormous improvement in the bird atlas coverage
The left map shows the bird atlas coverage in 2015, and how much greener it became as a result of Salome’s initiatives

BDI: How has being a citizen scientist changed your view of the world?

The Namaqua BioBashes were the first bashes where data on other taxa were recorded via the Virtual Museum. Doing other taxa like scorpions and spiders has changed my whole life. I use to be petrified of spiders and now I respect their place in this world. I guess what I want to say is that getting to learn other species makes you understand and respect them. It makes one realise that we are all part of a cycle.

On another level I have made friends with like-minded people whom I now call my best friends.

BDI: What does the term “citizen scientist” mean to you?

Observing nature and learning so much about species

Long Skimmer, found by our citizen scientist in Vanrhynsdorp
In the Virtual Museum, there are only two records of dragonflies from quarter degree grid cell 2414BC in the Namib Desert. Both records are Salome’s. This is a Long Skimmer (see http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=OdonataMAP-22965). The nearest record of a Long Skimmer to this one is about 150 km inland! (Photo credit: Salome Willemse)

BDI: What are you still hoping to achieve? This might be in terms of species, coverage, targets …

Turning the whole of Namaqualand green … And the Northern Cape

BDI: What resources have been the most helpful? (And how can they be made better?)

BirdLasser has been a wonderful tool that has turned atlassing into fun. And then also a dedicated person like Prof Les Underhill who keeps the interest going with social media.

BDI: How do you react to the statement that “Being a citizen scientist is good for my health, both physical and mental!”?


Salome has just twitched the Rufous-tailed Scrub-robin at Zeekoeivlei (Photo credit: Zenobia van Dyk)

BDI: What do you see as the role which citizen science plays in biodiversity conservation? What is the link?

Scientists themselves cannot be everywhere. We as citizen scientists can take a picture of a species and submit it. Being in the field and observing nature you often get to see really strange behaviour. If you are able to capture these moments other people can learn from that.

Thank you, Salome, for your efforts in this precious part of South Africa – keep up the excellent work!

Megan Loftie-Eaton
Megan Loftie-Eaton
Megan is our communications, social media and citizen science coordinator. Prior to her work for the BDI, she coordinated OdonataMAP, the Atlas of African Odonata. A citizen science project run by the Animal Demography Unit, University of Cape Town and funded by the JRS Biodiversity Foundation. She also coordinated LepiMAP, which is the Atlas on African Lepidoptera. Megan is passionate about biodiversity conservation. She is a firm believer in the power of citizen science and getting the public involved in nature conservation.