Highlighting the career of Prof Willem van Riet, directing innovative conservation initiatives in Africa, illustrating his experiences and approach through the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

An all-inclusive approach to conservation was instigated by numerous adventures on wild rivers in the 60’s and developed through academic research at Universities in Philadelphia (USA) and Pretoria (South Africa). GIS software, data and processes were harnessed throughout his career in support of planning, scientific analyses and fundraising.  Projects and programmes will be illustrated through a number themes. This approach was implemented during his years on the SANParks Board and on transboundary initiatives in Southern Africa during his 10 years as the CEO of the Peace Parks Foundation. Recently he has functioned as a consulted through the Swedish entity (Transboundary Conservation Foundation).

"I hope that the review of these conservation projects, as a journey of discovery through the use of GIS and maps, will be of assistance to conservation development in many parts of the world. I would like to iterate that the content of this site reflects my own personal point of view and is based on my personal experiences."

The history of the creation of the Limpopo National Park, adjacent to the Kruger National Park, has become obscured with time and with the growth of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. It is still relevant as this event marked the start of the establishment and growth of the Peace Parks Foundation, one of the most successful and influential NGO’s in Africa.

It was during the early days of 1991 that the SA Nature Foundation, later to become WWF South Africa, requested Dr Ken Tinley and myself to conduct a report on the potential for this, the first of many transfrontier parks in Southern Africa. Dr Ken Tinley had worked in Mozambique and its conservation areas for many years and became wellknown for his brilliant study of the Gorongoza National Park in Mozambique as the subject of his PHD thesis. He also had specific knowledge of the Catado 16, the controlled hunting area next to the Kruger National Park’s eastern fence, and understood the culture of the region well through his knowledge of Portuguese.

During the last number of years we have been involved with small studies and mapping exercises of a number of little know African Parks. These studies were completed for Leadership for Conservation in Africa (LCA) during investigations into support for a number of countries in Africa. Each of these studies places the park in its natural and man made environment. It illustrates the influence of the regional surroundings on conservation areas. I will, during the next few weeks, place a number of these studies on my blog. 

KAZA, as it is generally known, is one of the greatest global conservation projects. The website gives a very good view of the activities of the last few years and the scope and size of its activities is breath taking.

A workshop investigating the state of the development of KAZA is soon to be held at Victoria Falls at the end of October. My invitation to attend brought back memories of my original involvement with this amazing conservation initiative.

At the time I was at the University of Pretoria running the Department of Landscape Architecture advising Dr. Anton Rupert about the Great Limpopo TFCA. A phone call Dr Rupert, about a map he needed to present at a SADC meeting in Walvisbaai, was my first introduction to this huge area in the upper Zambezi catchment.

This map was followed by two studies called OUZIT and expanded OUZIT. These two studies focussed mainly on the tourism component of this region and on the development potential through the creation of infrastructure. These studies where initiated by the DBSA and a Mr Ken Small a enthusiastic American.

It has been very difficult to find copies of these two studies. Below is the reference to the first of these. These studies originally drew attention to the Ministers of Tourism of the five countries of the upper Zambezi River but later shifted its focus to the conservation components of biodiversity.

DBSA/DTI. 1999. Preliminary project scan for scoping assessment for the Okavango Upper Zambezi
International Tourism Study (OUZIT). Main Report. Development Bank of Southern Africa/Department of Trade and Industry. Midrand: with DHV Consultants, Willem van Riet Landscape - Architects, Steward Scott, Grant Thornton Kessel Feinstein.

I hope you enjoy reviewing the amazing progress by studying the website of the secretariat in Kasane Botswana.


During the initial stages of Transboundary Conservation Area (TBCA) planning, the planners often do not have access to appropriate geographical maps. Maps are a living, tri-dimensional source of knowledge—a map represents thousands of words.

Is it possible to develop a Global Atlas with selected data that would allow focus on identified conservation areas in the UNEP-IUCN WCPA’s World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) as a functional conservation planning tool during the initial phases of TBCA development?

The Transboundary Conservation Foundation made an experiment to test the usefulness of such a Global Conservation Atlas. This was accomplished through a conservation grant from ESRI and in cooperation with UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC).

At the core of the Atlas is the use of bookmarks of any of the selected polygons or conservation areas in the WDPA as a zooming tool to illustrate all of the selected datasets in the database in and surrounding the identified conservation area.

Central to the Atlas was the use of a web based GIS technology accessible via ESRI and its Living Atlas of the World.

During the next few days I will be placing introductory information on the concept and ways and means for this tool to become useful to a wider range of people.

As a member of the Transboundary Subcommittee of the IUCN I submitted an article to the magazine on the function and role of the atlas. I would like to make use of this article to introduce the atlas in more detail.

Please review the article in full-page format below. To view the complete magazine click here.

Transboundary Final Article Design

Top header source

Click on the link: https://transboundary.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=53fe8282e6274f61a6dbbf83902c292f)

All though it is the public perception that the concept of Transboundary conservation started in Southern Africa with the creation of the Peace Parks Foundation many other countries has also become involved and two IUCN based studies illustrated the extent to which this concept has developed. This Story Map illustrates the wide regional distribution of these types of land use. The recent discussions of Facebook and information from the IUCN on the enormous environmental impact of the global growth in infra structure as well as mining and the de proclamation of many of the community based hunting areas makes this kind of mapping very relevant. Our wilderness areas are becoming isolated with less and less corridors in-between. Enjoy reviewing African conservation.

The last placing is the overview of the story line that as developed for the Global Atlas. It is similar in nature to the first three blogs but ads the three-dimensional aspect of making use of the Web GIS. Each of the paragraphs in the story line has been illustrated by a 3D view of conservation area making use of Map Scene. It has amazed me how real these scenes have become while making these images available to environmental planning. The lack of maps with any article on conservation or conservation planning always disturbs me no matter how scientifically correct. The addition of the three dimensional nature of the landscape brings about a much greater understanding of the landscape.

A number of pages with the story line has been included below:

Storyline Conservation Atlas 1Storyline Conservation Atlas 2Storyline Conservation Atlas 3

As a member of the Transboundary Conservation Specialist Subgroup of the IUCN I am developing a Conservation Atlas for use by TBCA specialists. During the development phase I am being assisted by a small number of skilled people in this endeavor. For now, this will be a closed group, and we are testing the first phase of the Atlas on a small number of TBCAs. I will expand this group once some more development has taken place.

Top header source

Click on the link: (https://transboundary.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=c1ec7f42b2f043ad9b7c2568e8f85e0a)


Story maps is one of the most usefull tools to illustrate the advantages of the WEBgis this specific story map gives you access to a number of the most usefull data sets and it also allows you to change to the area of the globe that you are interested in and you can zoom in to your specific concervation area. This story map is indeed a very powerful tool. That is not clear initialy when it is opened.



Click on the link: https://transboundary.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=43bc943405d94b42808856ef69a78f65

This story map illustrates the most useful initial data sets and the correlation with the TBCA clusters on the Globe. It is clear from these maps that nearly all of these clusters have been isolated from each other due to land use changes and infrastructure development adjacent to roads. These clusters will soon become centres of ecosystems services and biodiversity as the natural environment surrounding them are damaged. The Map view is based on the use of Jpg images of the original maps and is not live. Satellite images are used in the legend to illustrate the region. Various datasets have been used to illustrate each of the clusters in a different environment. The usefulness of these are for use at various scales.


Click on the link: https://transboundary.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=55ad82da31e0485baf1e1565629be096

Introduction: The Great Lakes region of Central Africa has some of the richest biodiversity on earth but also experiences political instability. Managers of three protected areas, separated geographically but linked by their ecology and problems, are working together to develop a transboundary initiative in the framework of the IUCN Peace Parks Initiative in the Great Lakes region. The protected areas are: Kibira National Park: Burundi (IUCN Category IV, 40,000 ha) Virunga National Park: Democratic Republic of Congo (IUCN Category II, 780,000 ha) Volcanoes National Park: Rwanda (IUCN Category II, 15,000 ha)

“SANCTUARY Exploring the world’s protected areas from space”

We have been remote sensing for many years through the use of our eyes. That was the first activity during my river expeditions. At first you just look around and appreciate the aesthetics of the unfolding landscape as you paddle down the river. As you become more experienced, the images begin to obtain meaning and they transfer knowledge on which one begins to react.

Due to this transferring of knowledge through one’s eyes, I have become enthralled by the images obtained during flights to various parts of the world. Just ensure  that you are next to a window on the plane and orientated away from the sun.

Recent news on the floods in Mozambique and Malawi due to an exceptional low-pressure system over central Mozambique. The resultant floods were captured by satellites from NASA and made available for flood management actions. I place the link to these images as well alternative sites for further study. The MODIS Rapid Response Team has made these images available. They are available on a global scale and have supported flood relief efforts globally.

I have found these sites fascinating to visit during the various flood events happening continuously globally. It is one of the best opportunities to study the natural processes so influential in landscape development.


Today I want to place the spotlight on a fascinating article that I came across on BBC. My reason for blogging this is to illustrate the many interesting geological events that lead to the environment of today. I have always had an interest in geology and landscape development over the ages and the fact that the events of millions of years ago still influence the environment of today.

Click here to go to the full artcile

Of real interest is the fact that the geology around Barberton contains layers illustrating the first development of algae in swamps and lava flows of 3.4 billion of years ago. This is the oldest evidence for life on earth. Especially interesting are the discussions around global warming and whether the activities of humans can destroy the world.

From the above article it is clear that the 6 extinctions of life the world has known had impacts resulting mainly from impact craters and volcanic eruptions. It also illustrates periods of global cooling rather than warming. The great number of ice ages of the past had enormous impacts on the life of that time.

Where are we going today and are we going to become the 26th biggest and last turning point?



On their 100-year celebration of making maps NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC published an interesting article, “The science and art of making maps”. It opened up my own thoughts on maps as I have often found that many people look at a map as a flat, fixed time arrangement of colours with no scale or orientation.

I have used maps from my early days of exploring rivers, through to the understanding of new landscapes and when depicting of land use proposals and ecosystem services. Often one would read scientific reports that does not include maps and contains only a descriptive text. For a single map to fulfil all these functions is a science, but the presentation is also an art when the mapped information is depicted in a map composition. A map is worth a thousand words.

It could just be that the political influence of the global elite will be more important than that of the brave game rangers and guardians of the elephants of Africa.  A very good overview of the strategy behind the high level discussions and the importance at this level of approach to wildlife poaching.

Prince William Take Plight Africas Elephants Behind Enemy Lines China

Nothing ever stays the same and environmental changes are always logical. The growth in biodiversity comes as a reaction to environmental change and stress. When we look at history in a geological time frame, it seems slow but changes are also very evident in the landscapes all around, even those as large as the Sahara desert. Change based on geological events is inevitable and large scale in its impact and not often recognised in the climate change debate. Click below for an interesting article 

Arabia was once a lush paradise of grass and woodlands

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