Blog Post by Leon-Jacques Theron, BCP Carbon Accounting Manager
As part of an ongoing process of capacity building and improved management, the Rufunsa scouts and forest inventory team were trained to digitally capture biodiversity data using smart phones. The importance of monitoring certain key species on Rufunsa cannot be overemphasized. By tracking the distribution of species and gaining some understanding of their abundance, the efficiency of our management efforts can be judged. Such data will also serve to guide future management activities such as areas that require more intense patrols.
Seven of the scouts, the three forest inventory team members and one of the conservation center staff members gathered at the conservation center over the last weekend in January for the training which was presented by myself (Leon Theron is BCP’s Carbon Accounting Manager). We used open source, freely available Android software to develop the survey. We designed a framework and stepwise process for the data collection system based on past experience of biodiversity monitoring and important species that need to be monitored on Rufunsa. Another BCP team member, Wesley Roberts, then coded the survey and loaded it to a cloud server where it was then downloaded onto the Android devices at the conservancy using satellite internet– This is a great example of 21st century conservation in action!
A similar system has been implemented and used by BCP for about a year now to capture biomass data. The forest inventory team were thus well versed in the system and of great help in showing their colleagues the ropes. Fortunately all the trainees owned cell phones, so it was not all new to them, they just had to get used to the touch screen of the Android device. We spent a considerable amount of time learning how to switch the devices on and off, navigating through menus, what to do if you accidentally activated the wrong app or mode and taking clear photos.
We also reviewed the species that are of importance to monitor and also to include carcasses found, dung, tracks and so on. The scouts were also shown how the previous data they have collected using GPS has been used to produce management maps and reports so that they understand what happens with their hard work.
We then practiced in the field and practiced some more! At the end of the second day everyone was proficient in capturing basic data, and each trainee was given an individual test, which was scored. Fortunately all the trainees passed!
The training and data capture system were reviewed and assessed by the trainees. We discussed the option of translating the menus from English into a local language, but most people felt that the survey was simple enough to understand in English, and some people did not write well in all the local languages, anyway, so it was decided to keep the survey in English. We will further explore how to expand the system in order to capture poaching incidents and record vital data of poacher arrests.