16 Oct Conservation Mapping Projects
What is TL2 and what’s the Forest Health Alliance doing there?
At the very heart of the Congo River basin, three major rivers surround a 65,000-square-kilometre tract of forest in central Democratic Republic of Congo. Called TL2, because of the three bordering rivers (Tshuapa, Lomami and Lualaba), this region embraces the least known and least travelled forest expanse in Central Africa.
Since 2007, members of the Forest Health Alliance and the Lukuru Wildlife Research Foundation have been using a combination of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) field units, and remote sensing imagery (satellite photos) to help a major exploratory expedition map, document and analyze an unknown region of immense importance and rich biodiversity.
The forgotten landscape of TL2 has drawn researchers to find out how many bonobos are in this unknown forest, and document the presence of other large mammals such as elephant, okapi and monkeys, what threatens them and how best to protect them.
In 2005, the Alliance received an ESRI Conservation Grant, supplying their efforts with GIS software and technical support. Generous GPS hardware and equipment donations from Trimble Corporation enabled the Alliance to place two high-end GPS field units that act as a mobile GPS/GIS unit in base camps along the major rivers for the survey teams in TL2.
In partnership with the Lukuru Wildlife Research Foundation, and directed by conservation scientists Drs. John and Terese Hart (both possessing close to three decades of wildlife conservation work in DR Congo), members of the Alliance are combining sparse pre-existing geospatial data—some of it dating back to the 19th century—with the researchers’ daily discoveries through a combination of modern communication technologies (GPS units, satellite phones, FTP sites).
The results are being used to provide real-time digital mapping support and analysis to those in the wilderness, using satellite phones, wireless Internet connections, FTP sites and portable hard drives.
Please check in on the daily activities of the TL2 field survey teams as they explore and document their travels and findings in the heart of the Congo basin at: www.bonoboincongo.com.
The ultimate goal of the expedition: to gather enough data to have the region declared a national park/protected area (tentatively called “Lomami National Park”) in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“The world has a rare opportunity to preserve and protect from development what is almost untouched natural habitat,” says Dr. Kerry Bowman, founder of the Forest Health Alliance. “We believe that once we demonstrate the level of endangered life within TL2, we’ll have a good case for the preservation of part or maybe all of the area.”
So far, the expedition has discovered very high levels of biodiversity, as well as populations of rare and endangered bonobos—a species of great ape closely related to chimps and humans—extending its previous documented range. Within one year a new monkey species has been documented and several others are suspected. The TL2 field teams have also documented a range of human activities indicating far-reaching affects on the regions wildlife. Hunting camps, gold and diamond camps are present and signs of elephant hunting have been well documented.
Forest Health Alliance Members in the Field
In February 2008, Alliance members travelled to the region to conduct on-site training with local expedition members, teaching them how to use Geographic Information System (GIS) software on field laptops and portable GIS/GPS field units. An intense four-week period was spent in northeast DR Congo establishing a digital base map for TL2 and experimenting with field data collection units for future surveys.
With additional funding from Arcus Foundation, Abraham Foundation and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the TL2 Project will continue to 2010. Our aim is to push the project forward to the designation and financing of a new protected area.
Forest Health Alliance Conservation Mapping Projects
Having developed a sound GIS base map for central Democratic Republic of Congo, Forest Health Alliance GIS members are now in a position to provide digital mapping support to other conservation efforts in the region.
Ongoing projects include:
- Bili chimpanzee populations and the presence of bushmeat (Cleve Hicks et al.) – to be published in African Primates (journal of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group).
- Distribution and status of okapi in the Democratic Republic of Congo 2010 (John Hart et al) – to be published late 2010
- Digital mapping support for Lesula monkey distribution (John Hart et al) – to be published late 2010
- Chimpanzee bushmeat hunting and mining activities in northern Democratic Republic of Congo (Laura Darby, PhD dissertation Columbia University)
Recognizing the enormous research and educative potential of computer mapping technology in conservation programs, the team has been generously supported by GIS and GPS industry leaders through donations and technical support.
The Forest Health Alliance would like to express their sincere thanks to the following organizations whose dedication and support for conservation worldwide has made this project possible.
At ESRI, world-leaders in GIS technology, the TL2 Project has been generously supported through the personal interest of its president and founder, Jack Dangermond, as well as its Director of the ESRI Conservation Grant Program, Charles Convis. At ESRI Canada, we would like to extend our thanks to Jeff Hughes for his support and interest over the years.