Insider Peek: Gorilla Highlands Maps

Today’s Member’s Guide #2 (only available to our members but #1 is public) is another instalment of our decades-long story of love for maps.

Edirisa’s first long-term volunteer, Matjaž Švegelj, recently wrote about the paper map of Lake Bunyonyi (see below) we helped produce in 2003. The following year we used the same lake as a computer game map. In the decades since, printed maps have played a central role in the Gorilla Highlands Pocket Guide booklet.

A wildly more ambitious project was the Video Map. The promotional video shows how it worked but in short: we placed short videos on a map made by the Open Street Map community. We even organised a mapping training session for our tour guides in 2016 based on the same project — reading maps is a huge challenge in this part of the world, so making maps was supposed to assist with understanding how they actually work.

We tried to get one of the Open Street Map enthusiasts to come and do more with us later on, but that didn’t pan out. The last pre-Covid years have been about creating and updating Pocket Guide maps, and nothing more than that. Finally the quiet pandemic years have allowed us to reorganise our websites and the moment has come for maps to gain more prominence again. Interactive maps will eventually be sprinkled over our pages, helping visitors orient themselves.

The solution we are currently testing comes from the keyboard of a Portuguese developer called Carlos Moreira. He offers an Interactive Geo Maps WordPress plugin, what could in simplistic terms be described as a little app that has added interactive mapping functionality to our website. This plugin comes with a selection of maps (mostly countries) that can be extended by uploading geoJSON files. GeoJSON is an open standard for simple geographical features, and the following example will explain what that means.

After a couple of hours of work, the map of Gorilla Highlands attractions looked pretty neat (the screenshot above shows the WordPress working environment). Still, if you know anything about our geography, you will notice a major feature missing — the lakes! Carlos went out of his way to find us a suitable geoJSON file with African lakes, made by a WorldBank employee Naichen Zhao. This was then laid over the map …

Much much better, right? Totally … as long as you don’t live in the south of Lake Kivu. The lake in the compressed file prepared by Carlos had been oversimplified and cut short, so pretty Bukavu known for its finger-like peninsulas was now far from water … The 70km/42mi Idjwi Island was also quite terrible. Until we sort these issues out, the map in use will be without water bodies.

In a similar manner other features can be added, national parks for instance. We will keep exploring possibilities with helpful Carlos, and once we have a satisfying solution, interactive maps will begin popping up all around this website.