By Dr Tali Hoffman, MammalMAP project manager

To effectively manage and conserve wildlife we need to know where they are and understand why they’re there. But the reality is that across Africa, our knowledge of the whereabouts of many mammal species is at best outdated, and at worst based on unverified anecdotes. This is true for so many mammal species that the last Red Data Book of southern African Mammals – published in 2004 – recommended that surveys of the current distribution of mammals be carried out with urgency. Nearly a decade later the Animal Demography Unit (ADU) at the University of Cape Town and Mammal Research Institute (MRI) at the University of Pretoria have teamed up to take on this challenge with an initiative named MammalMAP: the African Mammal Atlas Project.

The overall goal of MammalMAP is to map the current distribution (occurrence) of all mammals ranging on the African continent and in Africa’s territorial waters (up to 200 nautical miles offshore). Where possible, MammalMAP will also determine the relative abundance of mammal species.

Civet cat photographed near Hoedspruit. Photo Viv von der HeydenWe are gathering the data needed to produce these maps in three ways. The primary way is by collaborating with scientists and field rangers working across Africa, and by consolidating all of their identifiable and reliable mammal records (e.g., photographs, sound files) into one centralised database. The second way is through the data collection projects that we initiate across the continent (initially focused in southern Africa) during which we collect new mammal distribution records and test new techniques and technologies for gathering information. The third and final way that we are amassing mammal occurrence data into MammalMAP is through citizen science. Absolutely anyone, anywhere can get involved in this initiative. All that’s needed is an interest in wildlife and to be a registered “MammalMAPPER”. Once registered, anyone can submit their African mammal photographs to the MammalMAP database.

All mammal records that come into MammalMAP are processed in the same way. First they all go into an online, open-access database called the Virtual Mammal Museum. Once there, a team of experts identifies the records to species level. Then the database software uses the GPS coordinates that accompany each record to delineate the current geographic range of each species.

(MammalMAP was aired on 50/50 on SABC 2 in November 2012. The vimeo contains exciting footage – Ed.)

Bedraggled, wet and cold, a fieldmouse (?) that escaped into a trout dam to avoid the jaws of a hunting dog. Photo Viv von der heydenThe conservation benefits of this research are multiple. First, comparisons of MammalMAP’s current distribution records with both historical and future records, and analyses of identified mammal distributions shifts (range expansions, contractions, and fragmentations) in relation to changes in habitat and climate variables, will yield both explanatory and predictive results that will inform species-level (rather than population-level) management and conservation policies. Second, in conjunction with these analyses, and by identifying and documenting the threats facing the most vulnerable of African mammal species, MammalMAP data will provide crucial guidance to the IUCN Red Data Lists. Third, MammalMAP data can be used to guide landscape conservation regulations, to identify which tracts of land need be purchased for maximum biodiversity protection, and to indicate how scarce conservation resources can be best spent. Fourth, the research will promote and facilitate interdisciplinary and international collaboration amongst scientists and conservation practitioners, with potential benefits to the advancement of conservation science. Finally, by actively involving people of all ages, cultures and geographies, MammalMAP provides a cross-continental platform to increase awareness and understanding of Africa’s biodiversity.

To find out more about MammalMAP please browse our website, send us an email, join us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. Remember that anyone can contribute to MammalMAP, and every contribution is valuable. So please do get involved.

Project website:


Facebook and Twitter: ‘MammalMAP’


See Tali on YOU Tube explaining – with humour and slides of rarely seen and endangered animals – the MammalMAP project and the use of the camera trap 

The Power of the Citizen Scientist – Tali Hoffman at TEDxUCT