BDInsight – February 2020

First BDI Citizen Science Conference, Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve, Hanover

The really important things at conferences happen outside of the formal programme. The First BDI Citizen Science Conference took this idea to its limits. The formal programme consisted of two talks and a song at the braai on Friday evening (14 February), and a series of presentations and discussions from 11h00 to 15h30 on Saturday. The programme was designed not to disrupt the biodiversity activities! People started gathering from Wednesday, most had arrived by Thursday, and the last few came on Friday.

The most important thing that conference organizers need to provide is opportunities for people to engage with each other, to form friendships, to learn from each other, and to make plans for activities to do together. If you read the “highlights” paragraphs written by the people who attended, we achieved these things in abundance.

The Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve is 700 km from Cape Town and 700 km from Johannesburg, and this makes it the perfect overnight stop for exodus to the coast every summer. Even though, for most people, it is far to travel to a conference, the Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve is not only a great place to spend a night, it is a biodiversity paradise. It was a fantastic venue for us, and we are grateful to PC and Marisca Ferreira, and their team, for the amazing hospitality.

Being in the centre of the country it also attracted some of the key citizen scientists who live here, and who are generally neglected. Rick Nuttall came from Bloemfontein, Tino Herselman from Middelburg, Ryan and Jana Tippett from Carnarvon, and Altha Liebenberg from Danielskuil. From farther afield was Itxaso Quintana, our intern this year from the Global Training Programme of the Basque Country in Spain, and Laban Njoroge, who is firstly passionate about dragonflies and secondly is Head of Entomology at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi, in charge of a collection of three million insects.

PC and his gameviewer full of citizen scientists

We asked PC, our host at the Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve, how he felt about the invasion of his property by a crowd of citizen scientists: “My first reaction was that it brought a lot of awesome people together to contribute to science and thus to conservation. It seemed to me that people who love nature and are conservation-minded are calm and in balance. They were easy going and laughed a lot. Is this the difference that nature gives back to us for looking after it? The Citizen Science Conference and the involvement of the BDI is already having a positive impact on the area around Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve. Given time, it will grow and have a dramatic outcome.”

Itxaso Quitana, intern from the Basque Country, Spain: “The overall experience in the Karoo was amazing. It wasn’t just because of the landscape and the biodiversity you can find at area, but also because we were treated with so much care. PC gave us so much information about the history, biodiversity and management of the farm. What I really enjoyed about the week was meeting all the citizen scientists, people passionate about nature and with so much knowledge about it. The week was about caring for nature and learning about it. I noticed that a network was created between people that have interest for nature which has a lot of potential. For me personally, I have learnt so much by joining different people going out to the field; I learnt about the habitat, behaviour, identification and interesting facts of so many species that were new for me. Definitively, my interest about the ecosystems of this country increased so much during that week. I am looking forward to the next meeting. Thank you so much for inviting me!”

Itxaso Quitana, intern from the Basque Country, Spain

Alouise Lynch, Director of Bionerds. “The Great Karoo has always been one of my favourite destinations in South Africa. The solitude and large open spaces speak to my soul, and echo my feelings that silence is more powerful than words. The BDI Citizen Science Conference at Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve refreshed these feelings for me. PC, with his novel outlook on life and conservation, was a breath of fresh air – to me it felt completely surreal to finally meet a farmer who is actually a conservationist at heart. The Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve is a beautiful expanse of grassy-karoo that hides its biodiversity under the veil of ‘the land of thirst’. I knew we were definitely going to have some interesting experiences on this property, but I never expected the diversity I encountered during our stay. It was also wonderful to put names to faces that I have been communicating with via social media for years. It was wonderful to see that, although everyone had their own VM project and species focus, there was this common thread of a passion for life and biodiversity that linked us all together. What was striking to me was that everyone had the freedom to do what they felt important at any specific time period which meant we could cover a variety of biological disciplines over a short period of time. Many bioblitz-style surveys rely on people banding together in one group. So it was refreshing to be able to head off on my own to do some botanizing without feeling that I was withholding anything from anyone. The biodiversity on Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve was mind-blowing; it was great to see so many nocturnal predators so relaxed in a farming environment. I found the botanical diversity particularly striking and could have spent a whole week amongst the grassland and shrubland areas. The BDI surely chose a sterling spot for the first BDI Citizen Science Conference. Thank you to PC and his whole team for making us feel like we have been friends for years!”

Pyxicephalus adspersus – Giant Bullfrog, Grootbrulpadda – Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve – photo by

Ryan Tippett, hosting the BDI Carnarvon BioBash in April 2020, said: “The conference was a fantastic event. Jana and I booked for only three nights at first. We did not know what to expect. Right from the moment we arrived we felt at ease, the friendliness and enthusiasm that we felt from everyone involved was amazing! To be surrounded by such like-minded and passionate people was infectious and everyone was so eager to share their finds with the group. The venue and the hospitality of PC and his team played a huge part in the success of this event. So we stayed a fourth night!

“In terms of the nature, we could not have been there at a better time. All the rain meant that the biodiversity was out in full display. Everyone found and saw new creatures that they had never seen before. Being out in the veld surrounded by enthusiasm was definitely my highlight!

“The conference was a great success. A lot of networking and idea sharing was done. Solid friendships were made all around. Our upcoming BioBash in April, is proof!”

BioMAPping in action, Karis Daniel (left) and Itxaso Quitana (right)

Karis Daniel, MSc student at UCT: “I was deeply impressed by the contagious enthusiasm within our citizen science community. One of my favourite moments from the conference took place when we were driving in convoy to a dam on PC’s property. Though the distance was short, we took quite some time to reach the dam because halfway, we all stopped our vehicles to admire a Pantala dragonfly. (Several people also climbed out to take photographs!) To me, moments like this captured the heart of the BDI Citizen Science Conference. Though many attendees specialized in one or two taxa, all were equally happy to dedicate their mornings, afternoons, or evenings to learning about a different organisms, or to engage in discussions of natural history, species identification, conservation management, and more. Group outings became treasure hunts, with each participant bringing and sharing incredible knowledge and excitement for some aspect of the natural world. The remarkable shared passion we experienced as well as the shared joy of understanding nature allowed meaningful connections between attendees to rapidly form and flourish. I truly believe many of these connections will continue beyond the conference to last a lifetime.”

Karoo sunset – photo by Karis Daniel

Laban Njoroge, Head of Entomology, National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi: “The first time I heard the name Karoo was in geography and history classes in Kenya many years ago. It appeared to me like a great place full of history. Because I never expected to visit it, I put the Karoo out of my mind. So when an invitation came towards end of 2019 to attend the BDI Citizen Science Conference in the heart of the Karoo, I thought this was a dream come true. I was lucky enough to get facilitation from a CEPF (Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund) grant to attend this, and to share about my dragonflies research in the highlands of Kenya. The experiences of the Karoo were overwhelming to me. My mind tried so hard to relate what I read to what I was now experiencing first hand. First impression when I got there, I thought our teachers lied to us about the Karoo. The place was lush green with many different and colourful flowers. There was so much life, unlike what I expected. My phone has never before taken so many photos. However, I was informed that what I was experiencing was an exception rather than the norm. I felt lucky to have been able to see Karoo insect species that most locals have probably never seen. I found myself spending lots of time at night around the lights to see as many insects as possible. I was eager to see the dragonflies of the Karoo. So early mornings and before the brunch, we would go in a team to make trips to nearby water points. An encouraging number of about 12 species was sighted. These will all go into the OdonataMAP section of the Virtual Museum. The storms, the thunder, the lightening and the smell of the rain made a lasting impression in me. My last late afternoon was spent watching the drops from a light drizzle make ripples in Seekoei river as the noisy weaver birds came back to roost. How will I ever forget the Khoi rock engravings and the stone tools that the Khoi used back in the days? I have seen many stars at night in Kenya but those in the Karoo seemed exaggerated. The conference team was great. Everyone was kind and helpful. They took keen interest in what I do back in Kenya and they also shared their stories. What thrilled me most is the enthusiasm with which everyone did they work. It mattered little if one was into birds, scorpions, aardvarks or lizards. This was a Eureka moment to me. What I am now telling Kenyans back home is that now I know why every guidebook comes from South Africa.”

Laban in his entomology collection in Nairobi, with the drawer of Black Emperors, Africa’s largest dragonfly!

Upcoming Events

The Second BDI Citizen Science Conference is tentatively planned to be back at the Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve. The core dates are the weekend of 26–28 February 2021, but everyone will be welcome from a few days earlier to a few days after. Please put these dates in your diary.

There’s a move afoot to have an event in between the 1st and the 2nd conferences. If we pull it off, it will be the 1.5th BDI Citizen Science Conference. The dates are already firm: Wednesday 12 August 2020 to Wednesday 19 August 2020, with the weekend 14-16 as core.

The 1.5th conference is driven by the need to do a big data collection drive in the Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve in late winter/early spring. In addition, PC’s neighbour has invited us to visit his farm, and he has a boat on the Vanderkloof Dam. So there the potential exists to visit islands in the dam. How cool is that!? Please let Megan Loftie-Eaton ( know if you are interested in the 1.5th conference.

For both the 1.5th and 2nd conferences, the “formal” programme will be similar to 1st: Friday evening and then Saturday 11h00 to 15h30. The 1st conference was a great demonstration that the “real” business takes place outside of the sessions.

And before all of these, there is a BDI Carnarvon BioBash from Wednesday 15 April to Wednesday 22 April 2020. If you would like more information on this, contact Les Underhill (

OdonataMAP – Shoot The Dragons Week 6

OdonataMAPpers managed to snap and map 839 dragonflies and damselflies from 6 countries: Namibia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zambia.

Corrie du Toit OdonataMAPped this beautiful Tropical Bluetail Ischnura senegalensis (photo below) at New Holme Guest Farm on Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve during the BDI’s Citizen Science Conference.

Overall, for the week, Jean Hirons submitted the most OdonataMAP records with 107, followed by Chris Small on 78 and Andries and Joey de Vries with 77 records. Awesomely well done OdonataMAPpers!

FrogMAP in the news

The FrogMAP database played a key role at the start of Peta Brom’s Master’s project. Part of her thesis has been summarized into this paper: The role of cultural norms in shaping attitudes towards amphibians in Cape Town, South Africa. The paper is in the Open Access journal PLOS ONE, and anyone can download it:

Western Leopard Toad- Sclerophrys pantherina

Here is the Abstract: “Urban ecosystems are increasingly viewed as an important component within strategies for wildlife conservation but are shaped as much by natural systems as they are by social and political processes. At the garden scale, attitudes and preferences govern design and maintenance choices including the decision to encourage or discourage specific faunal presence. At the global scale, charismatic taxa that are well-liked attract more conservation funding and volunteer stewardship. Amphibians are a class of animals that are both loved and loathed making them a suitable subject for comparing and unpacking the drivers of preference and attitudes towards animals. We conducted a mixed methods survey of 192 participants in three adjacent neighbourhoods in Cape Town, South Africa. The survey included both quantitative and qualitative questions which were analysed thematically and used to explain the quantitative results. The results revealed that attitudes formed during childhood tended to be retained into adulthood, were shaped by cultural norms, childhood experiences and the attitudes of primary care-givers. The findings are significant for environmental education programmes aimed at building connectedness to nature and biophilic values.”

Peta is now a PhD student, researching monkey beetles.


Palpares speciosusLacewingMAP record by Ryan Tippett
Mervyn Mansell writes: This is a Cape endemic, widespread in the Western Cape and parts of Northern and Eastern Cape Provinces. Frequently found in fynbos and Karoo biomes. Extends about as far eastwards as Grahamstown and is then replaced by its adelphotaxon (sister-species) Palpares caffer to the north as far as Zimbabwe. This was the first antlion to be described from Africa, by Linnaeus. The large black larvae live in soil among grass tussocks.

LacewingMAP seems a bit of a Cinderella section of the Virtual Museum. Only 0.7% of the 2019 records into the Virtual Museum were for LacewingMAP (compared with 32% for LepiMAP!!). And no citizen scientist embraces the lacewings as their main taxon of interest. For all of us, lacewings constitute a minor by-catch. In spite of this, Mervyn Mansell, who does the IDs for LacewingMAP, and who would describe himself as a “lacewinger”, is passionately enthusiast about what we are achieving. Mervyn says: “Please keep up the enthusiasm for the LacewingMAP project. It is certainly enhancing our distribution knowledge for many taxa, besides sensitizing the general public to these incredible creatures.”

The map below shows the numbers of species of lacewing per quarter degree grid cell in the KwaZulu-Natal. This map is counting species only (not genus or family). Clearly, there is a huge amount of lacewinging to be done; but it is impressive how few grid cells in KwaZulu-Natal have no data.

One great tip from Mervyn on being a lacewinger. When you stop and buy fuel at night, these places are invariably well lit. Do a close scrutiny of all the windows, window sills, pillars, etc, at these places for lacewings (and for moths!).

Basque intern Itxaso Quintana produced the map.

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.


  1. The Great Karoo is one of my favourite areas. Will definitely calendar in the next conference.

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