Dispatches from Rwanda

On the 20th of May I travelled to Rwanda to attend the JRS Biodiversity Foundation’s annual Partners Symposium in Kigali. The symposium is a great opportunity for the various JRS project leaders from across Africa to meet, exchange ideas, tackle problems and find solutions for biodiversity conservation in Africa.

JRS Biodiversity Foundation’s Partners Symposium in Kigali, Rwanda

The JRS Biodiversity Foundation’s vision and mission is “a world in which biodiversity knowledge substantially contributes to conserving the Earth’s biodiversity for the benefit of society and to increase access to and use of information that will lead to greater biodiversity conservation and more sustainable development in sub-Saharan Africa.” This aligns with the goals of the Animal Demography Unit. OdonataMAP, the Atlas of African Odonata, a citizen science project run by the ADU is a grantee of the JRS. We have been tasked with mainstreaming Odonata and mapping the distributions of these amazing water quality monitors across the African continent.

Title slide of my presentation for the JRS Biodiversity Foundation’s Partners Symposium

The symposium was a great opportunity for JRS trustees and grantees to come together and discuss ideas, challenges, and solutions for the various biodiversity conservation projects across Africa. These JRS funded projects cover everything from pollinator conservation to fisheries and water resource management, water quality monitoring, and how to build better partnerships between scientists, policy makers and local communities across Africa.

Listening to Michael Murray‐Hudson (Okavango Research Institute, Botswana) presenting on “Sensitizing Audiences to the Value and Use of Biodiversity Data”

There was lots of discussion on how to improve relationships and communication between scientists and policy makers (i.e. government), but for me the crucial link is that of the citizen scientist community, without whom none of what we are trying to achieve in terms of protecting Africa’s amazing biodiversity would be possible. The citizen scientists, I believe, are the ones that have the power in their hands to drive conservation in Africa, to be ambassadors for biodiversity, to be the voice for nature and speak up for its rights. We all have our part to play in protecting wild places and spaces, not just for us and future generations, but for all the plants and animals that we share this planet with.

Some of the key themes discussed at the symposium were:

  • How to optimize data platforms for the various users of the data (i.e. how to make it more accessible and relevant)
  • How to create better lines of communication between government (policy makers), scientists and the public (local communities, citizen scientists)
  • Scientific research needs to justify conservation policies just as policies need the backing of scientific research. Governments and scientists need to work together for nature conservation and sustainable resource utilization to work!
  • Citizen science is an amazing and powerful tool, not just for collecting biodiversity data, but for creating a “connectedness” to and an awareness of nature and wildlife.
Rwandan treats! Lady Finger bananas (a diploid cultivar of the seeded banana Musa acuminate)

One of the ways members of the public can contribute to biodiversity conservation and informatics is by uploading photos of plants and animals (everything from scorpions to elephants) to the ADU Virtual Museum at http://vmus.adu.org.za. The ADU Virtual Museum provides the platform for citizen scientists to contribute to biodiversity projects. This innovative concept was developed by the Animal Demography Unit. When people hear the word museum they often think of a building filled with dusty display cases and stuffed animals. But, the Animal Demography Unit’s Virtual Museum (VM) is not gathering dust. Our “specimens”, photographic records of Africa’s biodiversity, are being used to make a difference for conservation in Africa. The VM provides the platform for citizen scientists (members of the public), or BioMAPpers, to contribute to biodiversity mapping projects. We cannot conserve Africa’s wonderful biodiversity if we don’t know where species occur. Up to date distribution maps are key for species conservation. The realm of biodiversity conservation is no longer only the responsibility of professional scientists and game rangers; everybody has their part to play in conservation! It is up to all of us to make a difference, the future of Africa’s wildlife and natural ecosystems are in our hands. So what can you do? You can snap it and map it!

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.