Cape Town joins global race to fill 'Facebook for fauna and flora'

A wasp was photographed in Cape Town's southern suburbs in April 2019.
A wasp was photographed in Cape Town's southern suburbs in April 2019.
Image: iNaturalist / Les Powrie

Facebook is the largest human database, and you can find just about anyone using it. Now, through the environmental tech company iNaturalist, you can do the same for plants and animals.

At the end of April, the database will get a massive boost thanks to the worldwide City Nature Challenge, which Cape Town is participating in for the first time.

The challenge, hosted by iNaturalist, is a four-day “bioblitz” in which people across the globe will compete to capture and identify photos and videos of wildlife and upload them.

“iNaturalist is basically Facebook for plants and animals,” said Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden assistant director Gigi Laidler, who facilitated training for the challenge this week.

Although this is first time Cape Town has joined the challenge, it is the fourth year the event has been held. Last year it featured 68 cities and this year the number is well above 100.

Last year, San Francisco won the challenge with 41,700 observations. Cape Town hopes to win the 2019 challenge by setting a goal of 50,000 observations. But even a number lower than that would be a huge win for the organisation.

“It’s a way to crowdsource citizen science data, especially for plants and invasive species,” said Laidler. “And it’s an excellent way to put a hobby to use, to contribute to science.”

The City Nature Challenge begins on April 26 and ends at midnight on April 29. During that period, anyone can download the iNaturalist app and submit pictures of plants and animals inside the metropolitan area.

The event is sponsored by the City of Cape Town, which is waiving fees to its nature attractions during the event.

Todd Pengelly is on a SIT Study Abroad programme with Round Earth Media.