iNaturalist City Nature Challenge 2020

Jeremy Gilmore, a Grade 11 pupil at the Constantia Waldorf School was Cape Town’s star observer in the 2020 City Nature Challenge, which ran from 24 to 27 April this year.

We chatted to Jeremy about his interest in nature and how he got involved in this exciting worldwide challenge for nature enthusiasts. He recorded a whopping 834 observations under heavily restricted conditions! “I didn’t think that I could win the iNaturalist City Nature Challenge this year, but partaking in it was a fun way to pass time during the lockdown and winning it was even better!

Before the challenge I did quite a bit of planning in terms of what to photograph on which days so that I was a bit more prepared. Because of this I could record many observations in the short four-day period.

Lockdown made the planning easier, but there was also a restriction on the amount of species one could find of course, which wasn’t helpful at all. Despite this, on the last night I was lucky enough to find a spotted eagle-owl. Seeing as I don’t often see them – and never in the garden – it was a really exciting experience for the City Nature Challenge! This was by far my favourite observation. Unfortunately my photo is very bad and unclear, but can be viewed here.”

We asked Jeremy what he plans to do after school and he said, “While I still haven’t made up my mind completely, studying nature conservation after school has been on my mind for quite some time now, but whether I end up studying nature conservation itself or not, it would definitely be something in that field. Ever since I can remember, I have been interested in nature (specifically plants) and when I first heard about Cape Town taking part in the iNaturalist City Nature Challenge in 2019, I couldn’t help but join in on the fun. Unfortunately because I was so new to it, I had only recorded under 100 observations that year.”

He told us when not on iNaturalist he tends to go hiking with friends, all the while also constantly snapping new photographs to upload. His favourite hiking places are usually around Cape Town, on the Cape Peninsula. As an excellent example of stewardship, Jeremy also frequently takes part in “alien vegetation hacks” (clearing invasive alien plants) with the Friends of Tokai Park, to help in whichever way he can in keeping our Fynbos pristine.

Jeremy says, “iNaturalist is a really great way to get the community involved in citizen science and even learn directly from the experts themselves. The City Nature Challenge makes this a whole lot more fun than it already is. In an age where technology has become so prevalent in our everyday lives, almost anyone can get involved in this way, especially the youth. While it’s hard not to feel let down and hopeless with all the challenges that we are facing right now, nature needs all the help it can get. As wild as wildlife may seem, it needs our protection – everyone’s protection.”

Compared to other participating cities around the world, Cape Town was under some of the strictest regulations, on Lockdown Level 5, which made the challenge even tougher, and our collective achievement earned us the top spot once again, despite being confined to our home gardens. Collectively Cape Town recorded 34,254 observations and 3,270 species.

Some of the CTEET staff took part in the challenge registering 637 observations and noting 314 species. These team members gave us an account of their experiences:

“As a first-time observer, I had so much fun around my house,” says Jacki Sands, our Fundraising & Communications Coordinator, “I had no idea my little space held this many interesting critters! I’ve always enjoyed the birds and bees who visit and live here, but a deeper look had me feeling very blessed! It certainly brightened an otherwise gloomy time during lockdown. I recorded 59 observations, my favourite being a large locust who enjoys my succulents.”

According to Lynette Munro (Conservation Partnership Facilitator, Biodiversity Offsetting), “My kids both took part in the City Nature Challenge, through the Scouts link. I was totally blown away with the accuracy of the iNaturalist app. It was amazing how it was able to identify and classify all sorts of plants, animals, fungi and mosses. Technology is amazing! So the kids had lots of fun, and we all learned a whole heap of new names for the various bits and bobs in our garden. The thing the whole family learned to appreciate more, are photographs of living animals. One doesn’t realise, until one tries for oneself, how tricky it is to get a moving spider (in our case), in focus, in order to capture an image to upload!”