Africa is home… BDI interviews citizen scientist Chris Meyer

How did you become a citizen scientist? What was the catalyst that got you going?

Having spent my early years growing up on a farm in Zimbabwe, then spending many years as a geologist in the field in South Africa and Zambia, and having the privilege of being able to spend time outdoors with a camera during my later years I developed a real interest in the fauna and flora around me. Sometimes I feel maybe too late as there were many opportunities missed to collect even more photographic records during my working career and travels!

I started taking photos of almost anything and everything, particularly wildlife and birds and this has rolled over to moths and butterflies, so I had collected many photos with no real agenda other than, “nice to have”. I did try and send a few photos for inclusion in calendars and publications, but realised soon enough from the feedback that perhaps I should just do it for fun. My wonderful wife, Caddy shares our common interest in birding and the great outdoors, making our exploration trips very special. So when the opportunity came to share our photos and records on the various Facebook groups and the Virtual Museum, the platform was set and the catalyst ignited to share our passion with others “out there” that appreciate nature as well.

Awesome moth LepiMAPped by Chris in Ndola, Zambia

What has been the highlight for you? 

To be honest I don’t remember how I heard about the Virtual Museum, but being able to upload photos in order to help research and to show the diversity and range of various species; in particular where we live in Ndola, Zambia has added a special meaning to getting out and about. There is a sense of excitement and satisfaction when a new bird species, moth or butterfly is found and photographed. It is great when our records are identified by the panel of experts and then to see that certain records have never been recorded in Zambia, or can be added to our list of birds at home or “Life list”, is rewarding!

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

As a member of the general public with access to the outdoors, and the willingness to share information, photographs and other resources with professional scientists in their respective fields of study has been amazing. To know that we are able to assist with data gathering for scientific research makes me proud to be called a “Citizen Scientist”.

Lybius minor — Black-backed Barbet — One of Chris’ many awesome BirdPix records

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

Right now, the goal is to continue taking photos of anything and everything and to upload as many of these new and historical photographic records into the various Virtual Museum projects. And with the hope that in time the unknown specimens can be identified too and that the records can be used in future research projects to update species distribution maps.

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

From my short time as a Citizen Scientist, the people behind the scenes that take time to identify and interpret the uploaded records have been the most helpful to me as an amateur photographer and novice conservationist, perhaps I have interpreted this question incorrectly but they are the unsung heroes of an initiative like this, so my profound thanks to everyone involved, keep up the good work.

Coenina poecilaria — Wisp Wing — LepiMAPed by Chris in Ndola, Zambia

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

Just for the record, thank you for referring to me as a Citizen Scientist, it makes me feel proud to be recognised for my small contribution to a really big and diverse field of research and conservation.

Being able to get out into the bush and doing what we enjoy as husband and wife, sometimes with friends too, is especially invigorating. The clean air and being able to walk around and to put the stresses of work aside for just a few hours is very important, to feel challenged to get a clear photo or to make sure the GPS position is recorded correctly and captured in the Virtual Museum or BirdLasser App is really enjoyable. We love that citizen science challenges us both physically and mentally.

Kaupifalco monogrammicus — Lizard Buzzard or Akkedisvalk — BirdPix record by Chris
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.