"The world has a rare opportunity here to preserve and protect from development what is almost untouched natural habitat," says Dr. Kerry Bowman, founder of the Canadian Ape 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."
In partnership with the Democratic Republic of Congo's Lukuru Wildlife Research Foundation (LWRF), members of the Toronto-based wildlife conservation group are combining sparse preexisting data - some of them dating back to the 19th century - with the researchers' daily discoveries. The results are providing real-time digital mapping support and analysis to those in the wilderness.
As the expedition makes its way up river in a dugout canoe, the Canadians are in contact by satellite phone, helping the team track their position, log their discoveries, and decide where to explore next.
In 2005, the Alliance received an ESRI Conservation Grant. Along with generous hardware and equipment support from Trimble Corporation and WESA, the Alliance's GIS project team is working closely with LWRF to develop an accurate and comprehensive base map for immediate and future field conservation applications.
Existing geospatial data for the region are very limited and general in nature, with basic hydrology, topography and cultural features available from a variety of sources (CARPE, FAO, UNEP, UNDP, UNOCHA, WRI).
"Right now, our GIS focus is rebuilding a hydrographic layer for the mapping, using hard-copy maps ranging in date from 1880s to post-2000, plus satellite imagery and other earlier digital map data," says Nick January, GIS Project Manager with the Canadian Ape Alliance. "That data is being supplied to field survey teams on the ground in remote spots through satellite phone ftp downloads, and giving them much-needed geographic information for traveling through the region."
Data collected in the field or at occasional base camps using mobile integrated GPS/GIS units (ESRI ArcPad on Trimble GeoXTs) will be incorporated into a larger-scale GIS for storage, maintenance, analysis, cartographic output and report production. In the long-term, the collected field data will substantially increase the quality and quantity of geospatial data for the region.
The project is expected to continue for at least two more years.