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Interactive maps to help African tribes fight poaching

Congo: Online games and interactive maps could help Pygmy tribes in Africa fight logging and poaching in their area. For this purpose, a part of the Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) programme was launched at University College London. The programme is based on the research by anthropologist Jerome Lewis, who has been working with indigenous people in the Republic of Congo and Cameroon since 2005 to develop tools for use by non-literate people.

In 2009, Lewis developed an icon-based interface, in collaboration with hardware provider Helveta, which could intuitively be used by the tribes affected by logging and poaching in their forest home. Once familiar with the hand-held device, the hunter-gatherers could use it to geotag trees crucial to their way of life – for example, those trees from which they harvest a particularly delicious, and commodifiable, type of caterpillar. The information was then fed back to logging companies and policy holders to try and save crucial areas of forest.

Moving one step further, Lewis is now trying to make use of developments in tablets and smartphones to enable forest communities to gather multimedia data and feed it into intelligent maps. The data can be displayed on the maps so that users can see how the forest has changed over time.

In an interview to a science magazine Lewis stated, “As climate change starts to affect the rising and falling of water in the forest, animals become difficult to find and as is the predictability of the arrival of fruits and insects. This has been dramatically affected by climate change.”

Lewis also said, “Mapping changes over time will allow the forest people to start to notice the regularities that might emerge as things change. In theory you can start to adapt your behaviour to take account of that”.

However, map illiteracy among indigenous communities is a major obstacle for implementation of this programme. To address this hurdle, Lewis is collaborating with researchers from the ISI foundation in Italy, who have developed a platform for social games and experiments, Experimental Tribes, to teach the indigenous tribes how to read and interact with the maps they have been creating over the last few years.

Source: New Scientist