I recently returned from a two week visit to Virunga National Park headquarters in Rumangabo. The purpose of my trip was to install an aerial GIS camera system in the park’s Cessna 182 surveillance aircraft. I would like to use this opportunity to tell the story of how the project went and some of the ways it will benefit Virunga.
The aerial camera system that we installed uses a Canon 5D Mark III camera that is tethered to a Garmin aviation GPS unit. In between each device is a coupler that lets the two pieces of electronics “talk” to each other. Using a preloaded flight plan on the GPS unit, we would fly to a specific area and the camera would automatically begin taking pictures when the GPS registered the coordinates of our target location. Unfortunately, the steep, mountainous terrain of D.R. Congo creates some data collection challenges. Areas with significant elevation changes make data collection difficult because the system is suited best to situations where the plane maintains a constant elevation above the ground. Changes in elevation from picture to picture make comparisons more difficult because the perspective changes accordingly.
After a few flights to test and calibrate the camera system, I began training Jean de Dieu Wathaut. He compiles much of the wildlife data recorded by park rangers and has shown a keen interest in learning GIS. Jean de Dieu turned out to be the perfect candidate, and aside from a few miscommunications (I speak very little French), the learning process went smoothly.
I cannot stress how valuable this method of data capture is to Virunga. Trying to maintain border integrity of an area larger than the state of Delaware, the lack of navigable roads, and rebel occupation surrounding the park all contribute to a nearly impossible task of border protection while on the ground. By analyzing dangerous areas from above, rangers will not have to be put in harm’s way unnecessarily. The system is also able to capture data far more efficiently, saving precious time and resources.
I want to thank everyone who donated to this project. Your support has been critical. I will be reporting on the project over the coming years and anticipate being able to share many more success stories.