With input from Mermoze Adodo, Joy Agyepong, Mohammed Bachounda, Georges Fodouop, and Olaniyan Olushola
This year, Wiki Loves Earth in Africa and particularly Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly diverse. More African countries participate in the contest in 2019 than ever before, with four countries having joined WLE for the first time. So far, African local contests have helped bring more than four thousands of new free photos of natural heritage to Wikimedia Commons. We looked at the representation of Africa in this year’s contest and asked volunteers who lead local WLE competitions in Africa to reflect on the challenges and opportunities for the contest in their country.
WLE in Africa: Who, Where, and When
First, let’s take a look at who is participating in Wiki Loves Earth from Africa this year. Overall, eight countries from Africa take part in the contest in 2019. Algeria, Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda make up around 20% of all 37 countries participating this year.
As this list makes clear, the presence of Sub-Saharan Africa is especially visible this year. Seven out of eight African countries participating in WLE are from this region, including all four countries which joined for the first time (Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Tanzania, and Uganda).
As of June 17th, participants of these eight national competitions have uploaded almost 4,400 images. Given that the local contests in seven African countries will run until June 30th (the contest in Ghana has just ended), this number will, of course, rise significantly.
Wiki Loves Earth as an Opportunity to Show African Natural Beauty
The astonishing beauty of African nature is often underrepresented on the Internet and specifically on the Wikimedia projects, particularly in comparison with prominent natural heritage sites from Europe and North America. Thus, one of the key motivators for African Wikimedia communities to organize Wiki Loves Earth is to help show the beauty of Africa to the world.
For example, the Ghanaian team notes that “Ghana has a lot of natural heritage which hasn’t been well represented on Wikipedia. Regarded as the gateway to Africa, the country has scenic views of its forest reserves, waterfalls, mountains, wildlife sanctuaries, caves, rivers, rocks, and gardens in almost all of its regions. Hence the importance to participate in this competition as a medium to showcase the beauty of Ghana to the world”.
Wiki Loves Earth aims to create a comprehensive database of natural heritage photos. Yet, it is not enough to only upload photographs to Wikimedia Commons — we should try and make nature heritage visible to readers of Wikipedia. Only around one in four photos uploaded by Wiki Loves Earth participants are used in the articles of Wikipedia and other wiki-projects. In this article, we share how Wiki Loves Earth organizers in Sweden, Ukraine, Greece, and other countries encourage increasing the use of WLE photos on Wikipedia.
Since 2014, Swedish Wikipedia runs a project called “Mission of the Month”, or ”Månadens uppdrag” in Swedish. In this project, you can propose missions to improve Wikipedia. It may be something which needs improvement, but Wikipedia editors typically lack the knowledge or time to make happen — or maybe something you’ve started and want other writers to fill in. Examples of a typical project would be improving an article on robotic rover Opportunity or creating an article about English entomologist Henry Doubleday. Since late 2014, more than 6500 missions have been completed within this project.
Most of the missions concern making new articles or improving existing articles in Swedish Wikipedia. But there have also been missions creating new templates and working for projects in other Wikis. To vote in Picture of the Year might be also an important mission. Notably, this project has been used to help Wiki Loves Earth in Sweden. Within “Mission of the Month”, several writers engaged in missions concerning unidentified pictures for Wiki Loves Earth last year, identifying about one hundred pictures. Volunteers have also helped put photos of natural heritage to Swedish Wikipedia, thus increasing their use.
If you try out the project in your own language version, you will discover how much fun you can have together with your fellow writers, while also helping Wikipedia and Wiki Loves Earth.
Other ways to ways to illustrate Wikipedia
Thematic marathons. Swedish “Mission of the Months” covers numerous small tasks, such as creating or expanding an article. By comparison, some Wikipedia language editions run online marathons devoted entirely to one topic or type of tasks — and illustrating Wikipedia with WLE photos can be one of them.
For example, Ukrainian Wikipedia runs the “Month of Illustrating Wikipedia” right now. It is devoted to Wiki Loves Earth, Wiki Loves Monuments and Scientific Photo Contest. So far, 13 people are working on increasing photo contests’ visibility on Wikipedia, and the event is still running.
Wiki Loves Earth organizers in Greece have a similar experience. They created lists of photographed areas and promoted them to run a small edit marathon on Wikipedia with prizes for most active participants.
Edit-a-thons. Perhaps the most popular — and not the most difficult way — to illustrate Wikipedia is to run an edit-a-thon. This is the way used by a lot of countries, from Cameroon and Italy to the Philippines, Albania, and Tunisia. Create a list of unused Wiki Loves Earth photographs, invite contest participants and active Wikipedians, and organize an offline event for them to work on illustrating Wikipedia.
Article contests. Another way to promote information about natural heritage sites is by running an article contest devoted to them. This is the way used by WLE organizers in Spain and several other countries. In 2015, Ukrainian Wikipedia got 265 articles thanks to article contest “Wikipedia Loves Monuments”, which was devoted to Wiki Loves Monuments, another international photo contest organized by wikimedians. Running an article contest is more expensive and time-consuming than some other ways, but it might give more sustainable results in terms of promoting information about natural heritage sites.
Promotion on social media. Finally, why not encourage your participants to illustrate Wikipedia through social media? Pick a beautiful unused photo as an example, post it on Facebook or Instagram, and include a link to the whole list of unused photos, encouraging your followers to help discover beautiful natural heritage to Wikipedia readers.
Wiki Loves Earth 2019 is calling. This will be the 5th edition of the contest in Spain, and it is a great moment to celebrate our wiki-photographer-earth-lover community. To do so, we are sharing an interview with María Bolado, winner of the WLE in Spain 2017 edition, and Agustí Descarrega, finalist of the WLE in Spain 2018 edition. These are their thoughts on the contest:
Why did you take part in Wiki Loves Earth 2018? Was it your first time at the contest?
Agustí: Because I love my landscape at Ebro Delta, and I wanted to share it with the rest of the world 😉 It was my second time at the contest.
María: After I bought my camera in 2016, a good friend of mine who was already involved in the Wikimedia movement introduced me to Commons. On Saturdays, we used to search for interesting places in Cantabria without a photo in Commons. The next step was trying it and documenting some natural protected areas. That is how I ended up taking part in Wiki Loves Earth 2017.
Tell us more about your winning picture
María: My family spends weekends and holidays in Bárcena Mayor, a tiny village deep in the heart of Cantabria. The particular spot the picture was taken in is called “Pozo de la Arbencia” and it is in the middle of a beautiful natural protected area, about nine kilometers from Bárcena Mayor. When I was a child, we sometimes had picnics there. It’s a magic place, not easy to find if you don’t know it from before. Its waterfalls are spectacular when the river carries enough water. It was not the case when I took the picture: the previous autumn and winter had been dry. But it is an amazing place all the same.
Agustí: Mine was taken at the Lighthouse of the Ebro Delta, which is an icon of this fragile natural protected area. It’s important to have it documented: raising awareness helps give value to the area and helps protect this fragile natural environment in actual danger of regression.
Wiki Loves Earth was created to collect a comprehensive database of free photos covering nature protected areas across the world. Yet, another ultimate goal of the contest, arguably not a less important one, is to attract attention to preserving nature. For that, it is crucial that participants take the approach of sustainable tourism and, while taking photos, help nature objects, not harm them. In this article, the Australian Wiki Loves Earth team shares their experience on how to ensure that, and we put this experience in the international perspective.
Australian experience: Take only photos, Leave only footprints
By Australian WLE Team
Over the last few years, Wiki Loves Earth participants have captured many stunning photographs of unique protected places. The world has captured something that had already been lost, whether it to fire, flooding, or some other natural event. We have also lost places due to human activity, such as the construction of roads or trees cutting. Other reasons are more subtle, be it seed collectors searching rare plants, or insect collectors who are looking for that one unique specimen. Another subtle impact is that cultural desecration of the sites which is causing offense to the Indigenous communities.
When Wikimedia Australia joined Wiki Loves Earth, we took a stance of “Take only photos, Leave only footprints”. It’s a saying attributed to the Baltimore Grotto, which was concerned about what impact their activities would have on the environment they want to enjoy. When we started to review Wiki Loves Earth submissions, this motto informed our decision to disqualify photographs whose authors obviously stepped over that mark. For example, we rejected photographs taken on top of rock Uluru, where the Indigenous owners ask that people respect the site’s cultural significance and don’t climb it.
Our fourth edition of Wiki Loves Earth, the photo contest for those who love natural spaces, was held between May 1 and 31, 2018. Thanks to Wiki Loves Earth and the people who participate in it, those natural spaces, classified as Sites of Community Importance, are documented and valued. The contest aims to collect images with free license in Wikimedia Commons, which are then used to illustrate Wikipedia content, reused in other platforms and enhance the global and free presence of natural heritage on the Internet.
In this 2018 edition, a total of 230 users have participated in the contest; 171 did so for the first time and the rest had already participated in previous editions. Thanks to their contributions, about 2700 photographs were released that allow us to better understand the biodiversity, landscapes and natural spaces of the Spain. Now these images can be disseminated, modified and reused in different supports and platforms. A hundred of them are already being used to illustrate Wikipedia articles in Spanish, English, Catalan, French, Swedish, Basque, Galician, Portuguese or Polish.
This year’s Wiki Loves Earth contest in Serbia broke all records since the beginning of its organization in 2014. Over the course of May, 142 participants uploaded 1801 photos of 116 protected areas in Serbia. 115 of the contestants were new participants.
Unfortunately, 196 photos had to be disqualified because they were not marked with a proper template and ID, or images didn’t show natural heritage. Also, many participants had a problem with uploading images to Wikimedia Commons, so many of them were discovered after the end of the competition.
The competition was organized by Wikimedia Serbia in cooperation with the Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia and Tourist Organization of Serbia. The Institute provided us with the list of natural protected areas. The jury was comprised of experts: a biologist, a geologist and a photographer. It is interesting that the jury in the semifinals selected as many as 94 photos.
The media were very interested in reporting about the competition – over 100 announcements were recorded, and Radio Television of Vojvodina donated the commercial broadcast in prime time slot for 14 days. The commercial was created by WMRS volunteers.
On June 22nd, we held the award ceremony and the opening of the seven days exhibition at the Tourist organization of Serbia in front of numerous reporters. The participants were addressed by representatives of Wikimedia Serbia, Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia and the Tourist Organization of Serbia.
The president of Wikimedia Serbia Filip Maljković awarded the winners with a laptop (1st prize), a tablet (2nd prize) and an external hard disk (3rd prize). Also, five more photos received commendations from the Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia, while Wikimedia Serbia commended four other participants for outstanding contribution to the competition.
This year, “Wikimedians of Bulgaria” User Group participates for the second time with a local edition of the photo contest for environmentally protected territories, “Wiki Loves Earth 2016 Bulgaria“. And one of the ten winners in the national stage of the competition will be printed as an official postage stamp of the Republic of Bulgaria. This is the additional ‘surprise’ award, which the organizing team of the competition in 2016 arranged along with the planned prizes – vouchers for photographic equipment shops or bookshops, that will be provided under a project funded by the Wikimedia Foundation.
Which one of the ten photos would illustrate the postage stamp, was a decision taken by the members of the Committee of Postage Issuance under the Ministry of Transport, Communications and Information Technologies. And this choice has already been made. It is the 2nd-ranked photography in Top 10, by Emiliya Toncheva, which depicts a griffon vulture in the Valchi Dol Reserve near the small town of Madzharovo in Eastern Rhodopes, Bulgaria. Notably, Emiliya was the first volunteer to contribute her photos to the “Wiki Loves Earth 2016 Bulgaria” in the very first day of the contest, June, 1.
The Committee approved the young illustrator Dilyana Elshishka for designer of the postage stamp, and determined the nominal of BGN 2 (approx. EUR 1), which is the price for sending a postcard from Bulgaria to United States, for example. This stamp will be in valid use and circulation for the next three years. The attempt is to have the stamp ready around October, 1 when the local WLE organizing team is conducting the award ceremony in the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia.
The photograph selected by the Committee of Postage Stamp Issuance is special because it will stay on the very first Wikimedia-related postage stamp in Bulgaria, which also is the first one for the “Wiki Loves Earth” contest globally.
The photo is noteworthy also for touching one of the most important topics of Bulgarian environmental protection: protection of the birds of prey. In Bulgaria, all the three nesting or feeding vulture species – Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and Cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus) are rare and protected species, and the Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) has been since 2007 in a re-introduction program, because of being extinct from the territory of Bulgaria. And while the griffon vulture’s population can nowadays be considered stabilized, the Egyptian vulture continues to be the most rapidly declining among all birds of prey in Europe, with more than 80% decreased population in the Balkans for the last 30 years. Poisons intended to kill agricultural pests are the main reason for the extinction of vultures, whose ecologic role is the one of the natural sanitarians of wildlife.
Author and translator: Vassia Atanassova
Editors: Anelia Bobeva, Nikola Kalchev, Stanislav Yordanov
She is Katerina Zareva-Simeonova. She was the Bulgarian representative in the nine-person jury last year, which evaluated the photos at the International stage in the “Wiki Loves Earth” contest. The curious detail is that in 2015 the contest was organized in a total number of 26 countries, but not all of them had representatives in the jury. Bulgaria was invited to appoint a jury member, although the country takes part in the contest for the first time.
Due to the contest specifics, the appointed jury member had to be a biologist or ecologist with experience in photography. Katya is much more than that – she is also a big friend of the Free Encyclopedia. 🙂
After the “Wiki Loves Earth” contest finished and we announced the results, we asked Katya for an interview. We wanted to learn what it means to be a juror in a contest with so many breath-taking pictures…
Katya, present yourself in a couple of words. 🙂
My name is Katerina Zareva-Simeonova, I live in Sofia and my formal education is ecology. I have been working for 17 years in the Sofia Zoo, and I am currently the head of the Ecological scientific-educational centre in the Zoo. This is the department that accomplishes the Zoo’s function of providing education in ecology, develop educational materials and projects, one of which was the joint project with the Bulgarian version of the Free Encyclopedia Wikipedia.
Apart from the area of zoology, my interests are related to photography and popular science documentaries. I have published photos of animals and nature in various journals and books, and I have authored more than 100 educational and documentary ecological films, mainly about Bulgarian nature.
You have been juror in other photo contests, too. Tell us more about them, and what made the difference with the “Wiki Loves Earth” contest?
Yes, I have juried for competitions for children photographs and pictures, as well for film competitions on national level. For me, it was a great pleasure to be part of the International Jury of such a public photo competition like WLE, with already shortlisted pictures from 26 countries around the world. We had to review and evaluate 259 photos, showing the nature and biodiversity in the protected areas in these countries. For this purpose, we were provided with a special software tool and system for evaluation, helping jurors to calmly and independently evaluate all the photos.
What were the criteria, which the jury used to evaluate the photos. What was the most difficult part of the contest for you?
The criteria for the “Wiki Loves Monuments” contest are specific, since the contest has the certain goal of stimulating people to take pictures of the nature in their countries and create and extend the freely licensed information in Wikipedia, and in Commons in particular. For this reason, the criteria of evaluation were: technical quality, originality, and encyclopedic and educational value.
What hindered me was the huge choice of pictures of high quality and intriguing content. That was challenging for my evaluation, that had to be a very accurate and objective one. In the same time, that was for me a thrilling aesthetic and cultural experience, unveiling for me unbelievably beautiful natural landmarks and sceneries I haven’t expected to exist. I think that the concourse delivered its message and accomplished its mission, getting me to know and love the Earth even more than before!
None of the Bulgarian photos has been distinguished among the Top 15. What did we miss, in your opinion?
The winning pictures from the Bulgarian national stage of the competition depicted landscapes and animals from the natural parks of Rousse Lom River, Vratsa Balkan, Belasitsa, Belogradchik Rocks, Strandzha, Pirin and Rila mountains. All of them were gorgeous and rightfully represent our nature. At least for me, the pictures that affected me mostly, were the Belogradchik Rocks and the panorama view from Peak Vihren in Pirin.
However, the competition was really tough, and I think that our pictures lacked some originality. Both the audience and the jury are satiated with visual information, they want more colour, more of the wow-effect. It’s no surprise that the winning picture is a landscape from Pakistan, featuring buildings. Humans need to see themselves and the trace they leave onto nature, in order to compare themselves with it.
Katya, you are the head of the Ecological scientific-educational centre in the Sofia Zoo. In your opinion, how such photo contests contribute to raising the society’s awareness about environmental issues?
First, the contest participants have the opportunity to express their attitude to nature and show a favourite place or animal of theirs. On the other hand, in this very competition, where images are made freely available, this message reverberates, carries knowledge, and is capable of changing the mindset of many people.
I believe that nowadays, when people are impatient enough to watch even several minutes of a video in the Internet, photography has a particularly pronounced and direct impact. An image can take the breath away and cause great excitement, especially if it captures a beautiful natural landscape. I still think that beauty can save the world, and this is why I rely on it, rather than on the aesthetic of ugliness or of shocking imagery.
Which picture was your personal favourite?
I won’t try to hide that for me the most interesting photos were the ones depicting animals. This is my field of expertise, and I well know how hard it is to take a picture of an animal, especially in wildlife. My favourite photo, which turned out to be favourite for the rest of the jury members as well, came from Brazil and captured the moment of birth of an Apis Mellifera drone. That image received the special jury prize in the contest.
When we talk about photos of animals, why is it important to have them pictured in their natural habitat?
Taking pictures of animals in their natural environment is critically important, as it raises the educational and encyclopedic value of the photos. Animals are part of a certain ecosystem, and must not be considered outside of it. Such images are the most appreciated ones and the ones most difficult to take, especially when it comes to species that inhabit a different from humans’ environment, like river and ocean species, birds in flight, or underground dwellers.
Nowadays, with the recent advance of technologies, cinema and photography have allowed us to peek into almost every corner of our planet and see amazing and intimate moments of the lives of its inhabitants. These images have a huge scientific value, too.
Katya, thank you for this interview, and for you being a juror in the Wiki Loves Earth contest! It was really important for us that we had an appointed representative in the International Jury, as of the first participation of Bulgaria in the concourse. And even more so, that our representative was you. 🙂
Interview and translation: Vassia Atanassova Editor: Maya Marinova
When Wozzy flew to us in the late evening of 31 May, a couple of hours before the start of the “Wiki Loves Earth 2016” in Bulgaria, he was approved unanimously by the organizers to become the contest’s mascot. He got the name ‘Wozzy’ from the Bulgarian translation of the abbreviation WLE, which sounds as ‘WOZ’.
Checking the field guide to the birds of Bulgaria, we could most accurately identify Wozzy as a Eurasian pygmy owl, representative of the Glaucidium passerinum species. From the Wikipedia article about the species, we learned that pygmy owls are the smallest owl species in Europe and Bulgaria, with body length of 15–19 cm, wingspan of 32–39 cm and weight up to about 80 grams. And, yes, with body length of 14 cm, wingspan of 19,5 cm and weight of 66 grams, our Wozzy is one really pygmy pygmy owl. When he understood which species we attribute him to, Wozzy didn’t mind and even hooted consentingly six times (well, not before we pressed the button on his belly).
Pygmy owls are wide spread in the boreal forests of Eurasia, and in the Central and Southern Europe they can only be found as a relict species in the mountains. The species’ conservation status is generally of least concern, but on the territory of Bulgaria it has been included in the Red Book of Endangered Species due to its paucity. Nesting pygmy owls have been detected in the three national parks in Bulgaria: “Central Balkan”, “Pirin” and “Rila”, and some other reserves like the Western Rhodopes and Slavyanka – all of them being locations included in the thematic scope of the “Wiki Loves Earth” photo contest, from where we encourage readers to send us their photos.
Wozzy is far from the only mascot of a Wikimedian event or initiative. Flying here with us, he not only joined the organization team of “Wiki Loves Earth”, but also joined the merry band of plushies from the Wikimedia Cuteness Association: Percy Plush, Wendy the Weasel, Peter the Wikiplatypus, Erminig the Stoat, Punky and Lars, and others. We will introduce Wozzy face to face with the rest of the plushies after several weeks in Italy, where, at the end of June, Wikimania, the annual conference of the global Wikimedian community, will take place, along with the third annual Cuteathon.
Having begun in May 15th, Wiki Loves Earth in Greece is now at the halfway mark! The event is running in Greece for the first time, although parts of the required preparations started at least two years ago! For instance, an initial list of areas to be photographed was prepared in 2014.
In order to run the Wiki Loves Earth contest, we needed a list of protected areas and natural reserves; national parks and forests, monuments of nature, RAMSAR sites, Natura 2000 sites etc. We found out that many of these areas overlapped with each other, or that smaller protected areas under the same definition were included in a wider protected area. In order to keep it simple, instead of merging these lists of protected areas into one big list, we chose to run the competition using the list of the Natura 2000 network, which includes most, if not all, of the areas of interest and is well documented. These sites constitute almost 30% of the land area of Greece and most of the population lives no more than 30 km away from anyone of them. Of course, although we are organising some photoexpeditions, we do not expect people to travel only for the competition. In Greece, excursions to the countryside are very frequent, during all seasons, and we expect that many contributions will be photos from previous such visits. Even people who are in areas around Greece just for tourism can contribute, as many of the islands and beaches are part of a protected natural area!
To this day we have seen great images from lakes, forests, beaches, habitats of birds, photos of many different species of flowers. This is great, as there was a lack of freely lincensed images for many locations in Greece. The images from Wiki Loves Earth will be useful for Wikipedia articles, but also for Wikidata items that we plan to create for each of these areas. What’s more, if the project is successful more people will know not only about Wikipedia, but also about Wikimedia Commons, and new users will be engaged in both projects. Until this day, participation is as expected, with more than 1100 new images from dozens of contributors throughout the country. There is also a lot of interest from the media, and it will bring in even more contributors. Running this photo contest in Greece is very important, as it is one of the limited number of ways to inform the public that they can contribute to Wikipedia not only by writing texts but also with their photos, cameras, or even smartphones. Although one would expect that Wiki Loves Monuments would be something very easy in a country whose culture and monuments span thousands of years, it is not. There is no Freedom of Panorama in Greece, and even taking photos of older monuments is a problem, because of the complex legislation regarding publishing rights for photos of monuments protected by the government. That is the reason we started photo contests by taking part in the European Science Photo Competition 2015, where we gained a lot of experience that we use for WLE. But Greece, except of being a country with long history, is also a land of sun, high mountains, deep forests, and long beaches. It is a habitat of a lot of unique spieces of birds, plants, and even sea turtles and seals in its archipelago. When we set our goal to 2500 images, it was commented that it is too high. We expect it to be fair. 🙂