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  • Nyiko Gift Mutileni


South Africa is ranked as the third most biodiverse country in the world and home to over 95,000 known species due to its high levels of endemism. But we are also part of the global crisis of shrinking habitats as growing populations push into nature spaces, resulting in rapid and extensive rates of biodiversity loss so the need to monitor our biodiversity is more crucial than ever before.

It is easy to feel despairing and helpless in the light of the facts that bombard us daily but there is something we can do in our own little patch of the world by contributing to the growing number of ‘citizen scientists’ who are making a contribution to the database of our the creatures and plants in our area and identifying those at risk of disappearing forever. Founded in 2003, as a collaboration between the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc), and the operations of the Cape Floristic Region being funded by the Mapula Trust, the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) Programme is a citizen science initiative. This inspiring programme enables Joe-public to actively participate in documenting what we see around us and by monitoring species of conservation concern.

The CREW citizen scientists’ journey of data-collection and sharing has progressed over

time, from data recorded on paper forms or excel spreadsheets to the current advances in technology which have resulted in interactive websites like iNaturalist to streamline the process. This not only makes it simple to capture information but also to share it with other ordinary people as well as scientists across the world.

In 2021, an astonishing total of 7281 species were recorded during the Great Southern BioBlitz (#GSB21) challenge and 1042 observers (citizen scientists) participated. During the City Nature Challenge 2022 (#CNC22), 20 cities participated throughout South Africa, and for the first time, Limpopo province had a site at Thohoyandou. 2762 South African participants recorded a staggering 8549 species within our participating cities, making a significant contribution which could not have been achieved by conservation organisations alone. We can all contribute a little to make a big difference.

The CREW team is also the engineer behind South Africa’s participation in various international iNaturalist annual events such as the Great Southern BioBlitz, the biggest of its kind in the southern hemisphere which was held recently, at the end of October 2022. The goal is to record flora and fauna within a given period, as well as to connect and engage with citizens using the iNaturalist platform. The City Nature Challenge 2023 is taking place in two parts from 28 April to 1 May 2023 when you can take photos of wild plants and animals in the allocated city in South Africa and 2 - 7 May 2023 to identify what was found. The 2022 collective results included 1,694,877 observations when more than 50,176 species were found by 67,220 participants.

For more information regarding citizen scientist initiatives visit CREW’s Facebook

page or the Botanical Society of South Africa website

How to submit CREW data via iNaturalist Step1: Join iNaturalist

  • If you are not already an observer, go to and ‘Sign up’!

Step 2: Join the redlist (s Afr)

  • Use the search box in the menu bar, typing in ‘redlist (s Afr)’

  • Click on the ‘About’ link.

  • Click on ‘Join this project’ option on the top right hand side.

  • You can read the summary of the project and questions at the bottom.

Step 3: Add CREW data to observations

  • Whenever you add an observation for ‘species of conservation concern’, you can add CREW data using the ‘Projects’ panel.

  • On the Projects panel, type in ‘redlist (s Afr)’

  • As you type, the matching projects in your basket will display: select redlist (s Afr)

  • Complete the observation fields - fields marked with * which are compulsory.

  • When you have filled in all the fields, click on the ‘Add to Project’ button. (This is important as this will give the CREW team permission to see any data that you might have collected).

  • NB: Sensitive Species are obscured automatically.

  • The CREW team will periodically download the data from the redlist (s Afr) project.

  • The SANBI Redlisting team will pull data from iNaturalist onto the Redlist database to assist with assessments.

Sound complicated? It’s NOT…. give it a try!

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