Mapping Kenya's birds with mobile technology
An EU-funded project has created an updated distribution map of Kenya's bird species. It uses the latest mobile technology to create dynamic data with input from the public and has become a valuable resource for conservationists and policymakers.
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There are over a thousand species of birds found in Kenya and understanding species distribution is key to facilitating their conservation. Since the last Kenyan bird distribution map was made, almost thirty years ago, many invasive bird species have upset the natural balance, certain native species have dwindled in numbers, and concerns have grown over the effect of climate change.
The EU-funded Bird Atlas project has allowed for up-to-date mapping of bird species in Kenya by creating an interactive online bird database that is accessible to all.
Through citizen science, the team appealed to the general public and amateur ornithologists to participate in the creation of an accurate and dynamic map that is constantly updated. The project developed a website and mobile app so that participants can log bird sightings in real time.
The mobile app, called Birdlasser Kenya and now recently upgraded to Birdlasser Africa, can be downloaded for free and accessed anywhere in the world, says project lead Peter Njoroge of the National Museums of Kenya.
This means that it is now being used to map not only Kenyas bird species distributions but also those of the rest of Africa. Due to the technology we use, its also appealing to young users and is inspiring a new generation of ornithologists.
When compared to data collected in the 1980s, this new data is invaluable for identifying conservation priorities.
Mobilising citizen scientists
The team has been successful in reaching out to the public, getting people mobilised to help create the bird atlas.
With over 600 registered users, the project has now covered close to 12 % of Kenya, greatly improving the previously available bird distribution data. The bird atlas is constantly being updated as new sightings are recorded. It has helped map the distribution of invasive species such as the Indian house crow and the common house sparrow and this data is shared with governmental bodies so that these species can be properly managed.
The bird atlas is also being consulted by conservation groups and helping develop the countries tourism industry.
Getting people involved in the project, through Facebook and other media channels, has created an interactive online community. It is being used by wildlife tour guides, who, in turn, give back to the project by recording sightings, says Njoroge. This has direct implications for avitourism in Kenya that will benefit the country economically.
Tackling conservation challenges
Data from the Bird Atlas project is being used by university students and researchers in Kenya, enabling more advanced research projects to be undertaken.
It has been fed into the Eburu Forests birds checklist and management plan, and is also being called upon by national planners, policymakers and environmental managers to provide a support system for the complex reporting requirements of various international treaties such as the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals and the Convention on Biological Diversity Our data is providing information essential to setting conservation priorities and developing effective conservation plans, says Njoroge.
It is helping identify the early signs of a species in trouble so that action can be taken to help before its too late this is increasingly important as we face the problems associated with climate change.
The team has presented at international conferences such as the Pan African Ornithological Congress and the African Conference on Sustainable Tourism, and is making sure the Birdlasser app remains up to date so that it is increasingly accessible to people across the African continent.
The project received funding through the EUs Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions programme.