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Conservation by drone

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

You’ve seen the videos on YouTube – sweeping, breathtaking aerial shots capturing locations inaccessible to most people. On Wednesday Rhino Africa released a video compiled with drone footage which shows the beauty of Africa and the results are truly breathtaking. 

We can now gain access to previously remote areas with drones or UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles) controlled by remote or with the guidance of software and GPS. These flying robots were named “drones” because they resemble the monotonous sound a male bee makes.

droneInitially, drones weren’t used for recreational activities. The first drones were utilised in the military, but today civilian drones outnumber their military counterparts. It is estimated that, by 2015, over a million has been sold. Currently, they are used  in commercial, scientific, recreational, agricultural, and other applications, such as policing and surveillance, aerial photography and conservation. 

The idea of using UAVs for conservation was conceived by Lian Pin Koh, a conservation ecologist and Serge Wich, a primate biologist in January 2011. It soon came to light that the available UAVs were too expensive for use in developing countries where they were most needed. The only solution for Lian and Serge was to build their own more affordable version, which ended up costing less than $2,000.

A year later, they tested their prototype in North Sumatra, Indonesia where the UAV flew over 30 missions and collected thousands of high-quality aerial images and video footage of forests and wildlife. (

As their research became known, the term “Conservation Drone” was coined and by 2012 the International Anti-Poaching Foundation was using UAV’s.

Worldwide organisations began using drones for conservation. In 2012 the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) started using UAVs in Chitwan National Park, Nepal to monitor rhinos, tigers and elephants, but also to deter poachers. In the same year, Google donated $5 million to the WWF to purchase conservation drones to fly over parts of Africa and Asia in an attempt to help monitor and catch wildlife poachers.

Closer to home UAVs have been used successfully in the Kruger National Park against rhino poachers. In 2012 a UAV was loaned to the South African National Parks authority by its manufacturer, Denel Dynamics. 

“In March 2014, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation announced a 255 million rand donation for a three-year initiative in partnership with Nature Conservation Trust, South African National Parks (SANParks) and a South African public benefit organisation (PBO) to combat poaching in Kruger National Park and test new anti-poaching technology. SANParks is testing the use of drones and this year, the Foundation added a further 37.7 million rand to buy a helicopter for use in anti-poaching operations.” (

In Namibia, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society used this technology to monitor the annual seal cull and also to combat rhino poaching in Etosha National Park. 

Other uses for UAVs include aerial crop surveys, aerial photography, search and rescue, inspection of power lines and pipelines, counting wildlife, delivering medical supplies to otherwise inaccessible regions, and detection of illegal hunting, reconnaissance operations, cooperative environment monitoring, border patrol missions, convoy protection, forest fire detection and monitoring,  surveillance, coordinating humanitarian aid, plume tracking, land surveying, fire and large-accident investigation, landslide measurement, illegal landfill detection, the construction industry and crowd monitoring. (Wikipedia


Fair data management

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

The European Commission is running a flexible pilot under Horizon 2020 called the Open Research Data Pilot (ORD pilot). The ORD pilot aims to improve and maximise access to and re-use of research data generated by Horizon 2020 projects and takes into account the need to balance openness and protection of scientific information, commercialization and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), privacy concerns, security, as well as data management and preservation questions.

A data management plan (DMP) is required for all projects participating in the extended ORD pilot and describes the data management life cycle for the data to be collected, processed and/or generated by a Horizon 2020 project.

To help Horizon 2020 beneficiaries make their research data findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR), the Commission has designed a Horizon 2020 FAIR DMP template which provided in Annex I of their new guidelines on FAIR Data Management in Horizon 2020.

FAIR principles can and should be adopted by research groups outside the ORD pilot in developing DMPs for their projects. A FAIR DMP should include information on:

  • the handling of research data during and after the end of the project
  • what data will be collected, processed and/or generated
  • which methodology and standards will be applied
  • whether data will be shared/made open access and
  • how data will be curated and preserved (including after the end of the project).

[ARTICLE BY Rabelani Mutondwa

Science in your backyard

Friday, August 5th, 2016

frog-1445779__180Everyone can’t have a career in science, but nothing prevents you from taking part in various projects and contributing to important research. Thanks to technology, being a citizen scientist couldn’t be easier.

Citizen science, also known as crowd science, crowd-sourced science, civic science, volunteer monitoring or networked science, is scientific research conducted,  by amateur or nonprofessional scientists. (

Joseph M. Hulbert elaborates further in his article, Citizen science tools available for ecological research in South Africa:

“Ordinary citizens can participate in research from their home computer, in their own gardens, or in the great outdoors – without any expertise in the field. Many citizen science projects and opportunities exist in South Africa – ranging from monitoring bird migrations to identifying and mapping distributions of fungi.” 

One of the most popular fields where citizen science is practised is amateur astrology, but others include butterfly counts, ornithology, citizen oceanography and even art history. In South Africa CS projects include the Stream Assessment Scoring System (miniSASS) and at the University of Pretoria members of the public are helping researchers to identify Phytophthora (“plant destroyers”) species present in the fynbos. The main purpose of the research is to survey plant disease in the Fynbos Biome. By finding the locations where the disease is spotted, faster action can be taken and the conservation of Fynbos will be benefitted. Read more about the project here.

The University of Cape Town’s Animal Demography Unit (ADU) is responsible for many local citizen science projects. The unit has created various Virtual Museums, including the MammalMAP website where you can submit photos and add to a growing database of the habits and distribution of mammals in South Africa. If you’re not into mammals, there are virtual museums for anything from frogs and butterflies to starfish and sea urchins. 

Joseph M. Hulbert mentions two other local projects, OrchidMap and Aliens of the Cape Peninsula. OrchidMap is also one of the projects hosted by Virtual Museum and consists of nearly 3000 geo-referenced records for orchids being added since September 2014. Members of the public can upload images and locations of orchids on the database. Aliens of the Cape Peninsula attempts to locate new alien plants and their distribution on the Cape Peninsula.

If you are interested in being a citizen scientist and putting your photography and science skills to good use, here are a few tools you can use – 

Ispot is a South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) initiative. Since its launch in June 2012, it has contributed to the nearly 400 000 international observations of 30 000 different species reported by mid-2014.

WhatSpecies was started by a parent who wanted to help her children identify insects and plants. Subsequently, the website’s layout is friendly and accessible for a younger audience and it tries to engage youth on various social media platforms.

Virtual Museum, as mentioned earlier, is hosted by the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town. There are 17 different projects that citizens can participate in hosted on Virtual Museum alone.

The Cape Town Citizen website  also contains ample information on becoming a citizen scientist. Also watch the SciShow’s video on Citizen Science on YouTube.

Tools for data management plans

Friday, August 5th, 2016

matrix More and more research funders require data management plans to be included in applications for research grants or funding. A data management plan (DMP)  is a formal document that outlines what you will do with your data during and after a research project.

Although the requirements may vary from funder to funder, DMP’s generally consist of a description of the data to be collected or created; the methodologies or standards of data collection and management to be used; applicable security, confidentiality, ethics and intellectual property considerations ; and plans and strategies for data access and sharing as well as long-term preservation.

Several tools, such as the DMPTool from the University of California Curation Center and DMPonline from the Digital Curation Centre, have been developed and published online to help researchers create DMPs.

These web-based tools provide access to several DMP templates;  guidance from specific funders who require DMPs and the ability to share or export DMPs in various formats. People from any institution can register freely to use these tools.

[SOURCES:; (; and]

[Article by Rabelani Mutondwa]

Are you an aspiring scientist?

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

sciencejournalGoogle just released an app which might appeal to budding scientists.  It’s called Science Journal, and measures and records data in real-time by using the sensors embedded in Android phones. 

The Science Journal app allows you to gather data from the world around you. By using the phone’s sensors, it measures elements in your environment, like light and sound, so you can graph data, record experiments, and organise questions and ideas.

If your main aim is to take over the world, instead of conducting small experiments for your own amusement, this might not be your cup of tea. Its main objective is to get children involved and interested in science, but it can still be fun for the adult who still wants to play.

The app is part of a larger Google initiative called The Making & Science Initiative which believes anyone can be a scientist by observing your everyday life, figuring out how things work and creating projects to improve the world.

Science Journal also allows you to make notes about your experiments and keep a digital journal – just in case you make that breakthrough discovery and forgot how it happened.

It is available as a free download from the Google Play Store and needs a smartphone running on Android 4.4 KitKat to install the 14MB app. 

Read more on Google’s latest projects, including a modular cellphone and an attempt at smart clothes.


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