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A new geospatial messiah

Bhanu Rekha
Associate Editor
[email protected]

Aprimatologist, environmentalist and UN messenger of peace – that’s Dame Jane Goodall for one and all. But what is she doing at a technology platform like Map World Forum, raised the brow of many a technologist at the event.

A minute into this petite, gracious lady’s guest address demystified the myth that she is a novice on technology issues, and all the technocrati sat spell bound. When she waxed eloquent about technology in general and GIS in particular as an enabler to reach out to the chimps of Africa, to restore the ecosystems around Gombe National Park, to promote sustainable livelihoods, to empower the youth, to bring peace and to plan for the future of the humankind and the planet, her audience put all doubts to rest. Jane, who turns 75 shortly, was inspired by fictional hero Tarzan early in her childhood while forests always fascinated her. She followed her heart into the jungles of East Africa on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in 1960 to study chimps. During the first year of her observations, she disproved the theory that humans were the only species to use tools and disproved theories that chimpanzees were primarily vegetarians who supplemented their diet with insects and rodents only occasionally. After the initial discoveries, study of chimps and restoration of their ecosystems remained her way of life.

Jane was upset with the pet trade, deforestation, poaching, illegal bush meat trade and conversion of forests into agricultural land and settlements, all threatening to turn detri- JGI to the rescue of African ecosystems The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) is using geospatial technologies like satellite imagery, GIS and GPS to monitor both chimpanzee habitats and human land use in Africa to inform planning, implementation, and evaluation of conservation and development projects. Here are a few examples of geospatial applications at JGI:

High resolution imaging of chimpanzee habitats and rural landscapes in Tanzania

JGI has been using Landsat MSS, TM, ETM+ and SPOT satellite images/2009/april to map deforestation and increase in forest cover to enable conservation efforts inside and outside Gombe National Park, Tanzania. However, in order to support conservation planning, detail information on chimpanzee habitats and human land uses in the Greater Gombe ecosystem region is needed. JGI has been using 60-cm QuickBird images/2009/april to map individual trees, farms, houses and footpaths inside and outside Gombe National Park. These land use features have been extracted from the imagery using Feature Analyst, a product of Overwatch Gesospatial, a Textron Systems Company as an extension in ArcGIS of ESRI. Such type of data allowed the identification of potential areas for reforestation outside Gombe National Park that could benefit both people and chimpanzees.

In 2009, JGI plans to acquire another QuickBird image that would allow assess

the success of JGI conservation efforts and improve its strategies and actions on the ground.

Participatory mapping

Since all the lands outside Gombe National Park in the larger Greater Gombe Ecosystem are village lands, the future of Gombe chimpanzees are in the hands of local communities. GPS, GIS and high resolution imagery are being put to use by JGI to support local communities to better manage their lands. Though most of the local people cannot read maps, they can recognise their houses, farms and religious places from high resolution imagery of one meter resolution or below, such as IKONOS and QuickBird. JGI has been able to use satellite imagery and participatory mapping as a common language to georeference both scientific and traditional knowledge of village landscapes.

Participatory village land use planning and monitoring

In Tanzania, by law, every village is supposed to have a village land use plan. In reality, this is difficult to achieve due to lack of resources and technical expertise at the local scales. Jane Goodall Institute has been supporting local communities with access to GIS/remote sensing/GPS resources to develop such comprehensive village land use plans. Every village identified ‘Forest Monitors’ that patrol their forest areas and JGI equipped them with GPS to georeference, analyse and communicate those observations. In about a year, fourteen Forest Monitors in the Greater Gombe ecosystem generated more than 30,000 GPS observations.

Conservation action planning using multi-scale satellite imagery

In the Greater Mahale ecosystem in Tanzania, chimpanzees depend on narrow riverine forests for survival. However, the area is too large (more than 20,000 sq km) to be mapped with high resolution imagery. Also, the high seasonality of dry tropical forests and miombo woodlands make it difficult to map vegetation. JGI used 56-m resolution AWiFS satellite imagery from Indian Resource Satellite (IRS) that could collect an image every five days to better understand both the phenology of vegetation and the impact of fire in the region. The final vegetation map derived from AWiFS and Landsat TM imagery served as the main basemap for developing a conservation plan for the Greater Mahale ecosystem. However, 60-cm QuickBird imagery was critical to inform local government and other stakeholders on the extent of threats such as conversion of riverine forests to oil palm and other crops. By showing the distribution of such patchy clearings, stakeholders recognised the importance of this threat and decided to address it on a priority. Other examples of JGI’s use of geospatial technologies are mapping potential reintroduction sites in the Republic of Congo using PALSAR, ASTER, Landsat ETM+ and field surveys; forest monitoring and snare removal in Uganda; and prioritising chimpanzee conservation areas in Tanzania.

mental to the existence of chimpanzees in Africa. With the mission to advance the power of individuals to take informed and compassionate action to improve the environment for all living things, Jane founded the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation in 1977 to support research and protection of chimps. The institute works with African villagers to address residents’ needs and to educate them about chimpanzees and their habitat. And in this endeavour, several technologies including GIS and remote sensing started being put to use.

Lilian Pintea, Director of Conservation Science at Jane Goodall Institute, acquainted and encouraged the use of geospatial technologies at JGI, which he calls, “a perfect fit to our problems.” These tools, which were first used in a research project at JGI, are now being extensively integrated in all the projects seeing the value and the information needs of the natives. Clearing of forests and woodlands for timber/firewood/charcoal, agriculture and settlements are leaving chimpanzees all over Africa in isolated, small populations facing edge effects, genetic isolation, and ultimately extinction. As most of the chimps are located in remote, difficult- to-access areas, satellite images/2009/april and GIS are often the only sources of information on chimpanzee distribution, habitat status and threats. In Jane’s words, “GIS is helpful to know how the habitats can rebound just as it is helpful in pinpointing the destruction. This is extremely important as chimps are very conservative and if their community structure is broke, they find it difficult to recover.” She expressed dismay and concern at the rapid fall in the number of chimps in 21 African nations put together today which stands at just 200-250 k, recalling that African jungles had two million chimpanzees when she started out her work.

Jane Goodall, who travels extensively around the world was appalled by the rapid loss of biodiversity of ecosystems around the world, for which human action is solely responsible. She says, “Wherever I travel, I meet young students who seem to have lost hope. They are either depressed, angry, sometimes violent or simply apathetic. They feel they have compromised on their future and there is nothing they can do about it.” She questions her audience if they compromised the future of the young people and answers, “You know the answer is yes.” This feeling of desperation led to – Roots and Shoots, a programme about making positive change happen. This programme has tens of thousands of young people (from preschoolers to university students) from about 100 countries around the world working to create a better world. “This is a symbolic name. Roots creep underground everywhere and make a firm foundation. Shoots seem very weak, but to reach the light, they break open brick walls. Imagine that the brick walls are all the problems we have inflicted on our planet. Hundreds of thousands of roots & shoots, hundreds of thousands of young people around the world, can break through these walls. We can change the world,” Jane augurs.

“Its main message,” according to Jane, “is that every individual matters. Every one of us makes the difference every single day. And we have a choice as to what kind of difference, what kind of impact we have on the environment, on the society, on the animals around us.” And everyday, Jane asserts, “We can make that choice.” “It is a challenge to bring peace and harmony among people, within families, between communities, religions,

“GIS is helpful to know how the habitats can rebound just as it is helpful in pinpointing the destruction”

cultures, nations and more importantly, between the nature and humans. The youth of this world is capable of bringing that harmony,” Jane says but laments, “young children are trapped in front of their television sets and internet.” She puts the challenge before technological experts to try and create ways of using technology that encourages young children to go out and know the joy of seeing something of nature with their own eyes. “It is important to develop environment- friendly technology which the children can use hands-on and get closer to the nature. GIS can certainly make a huge difference in the way children look at the world. This visualisation tool will enable them to think globally and act locally,” she exhorts.


Even as you read this, young people are changing the world and this is one of the reasons of hope for Jane. Their energy, commitment, dedication, courage and the positive change she sees in them makes her build on her hopes. And once they know what the problems are and once they are empowered, they are ready to take on the challenge, she believes. Jane’s second reason for hope is the resilience of nature. With JGI’s restoration and preservation efforts, natural habitats are springing back to life and villagers are happy with the way their lives are improving by way of increasing water tables, understanding of land use, education to girls, empowerment of women, and in short, for a second chance they have got with life.

Human brain is another reason of hope for Jane. While she perceives a disconnect between the intelligent brain and the (dis)compassionate human heart which is proving disastrous, she pins hope on the technological brains that can be put to use to conserve the natural world by mapping out problem areas. Finally, the indomitable human spirit that doesn’t give up is another hope. “This indomitable human spirit connected through the human heart to the incredible brain linked to the resilience of nature and the energy and commitment of the young people, that’s the hope for world,” concludes Jane.

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