Viva Virtual Museum! Let’s get BioMAPping…

Megan Loftie Eaton introduces the Virtual Museum.

Welcome to the Animal Demography Unit Virtual Museum

When people hear the word “museum” they often think of a building filled with dusty display cases and stuffed animals

But the Virtual Museum (VM) is not gathering dust. Our “specimens”, photographic records of Africa’s biodiversity, are being used to make a difference for nature conservation in Africa.

We cannot conserve Africa’s wonderful biodiversity effectively if we don’t know where species occur. Up-to-date distribution maps are key for species conservation. Creating and maintaining these maps is hugely time- and resource-consuming, and far exceeds the resources of the professionals. That’s why the realm of biodiversity conservation is no longer only the responsibility of professional scientists and game rangers; everybody has their part to play in conservation. It is up to all of us to make a difference, the future of Africa’s wildlife and natural ecosystems are in our hands.

So what can you do to help? You can snap it and map it. 

The VM provides the platform for citizen scientists (members of the public), aka BioMAPpers, to contribute to biodiversity mapping projects. Learn how to submit your photos.

I encourage all of you to submit your photographs of the awesome critters that you find out there on your adventures, to the various projects in the VM (e.g. MammalMAP, which is the Atlas of African Mammals), along with the locality information and the date.

You can try and identify the critter that you photographed, but this is not essential, because the species identifications are confirmed by a panel of experts for each project. Within each VM project there are distribution maps and species lists freely available online, and these also serve as conservation and education tools. These maps and species lists include VM records as well as other distributional records contained within the Animal Demography Unit’s databases (e.g. historical records, museum collections, bulk data uploads, records from private collections, and expert confirmed sightings records). The data from the VM has been used in the Red Listing and Atlas of mammals, butterflies, reptiles, and frogs of southern Africa. This is data that is making a difference.

Over 5 000 pages of valuable information has been gathered by BioMAPpers and used for species conservation Some FrogMAP record examples of the Family Bufonidae.  

VM records help expand the distribution databases and information for these various taxa (mammals, reptiles, butterflies/moths, dragonflies, mushrooms, lacewings, spiders, scorpions etc.); they not only confirm the presence of a species at a particular point in time, but they also provide new distribution records for species and sometimes lead to extensions of the known range of a species. By uploading your photos to the VM you can make a difference for biodiversity conservation. Instead of having your photos sit on your computer gathering digital dust they can form part of a valuable database of biodiversity. Let’s take responsibility for biodiversity conservation, let’s snap it and map it! If you have any questions about how to submit your photos to the VM please don’t hesitate to contact us. Happy mapping!


Megan Loftie-Eaton

Megan coordinates OdonataMAP, the Atlas of African Odonata. A citizen science project run by the Animal Demography Unit, University of Cape Town and funded by the JRS Biodiversity Foundation. Prior to OdonataMAP, she coordinated LepiMAP, which is the Atlas on African Lepidoptera. Megan is passionate about biodiversity conservation and a firm believer in the power of citizen science and getting the public involved in nature conservation


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