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Biodiversity Explorers

People who have observed, collected or documented the biodiversity of southern Africa

Our accumulated knowledge of the biodiversity of southern Africa is the result of the observations and research of millions of people. Human beings evolved in Africa and through observation, experience and the ability to communicate to their children what they knew, our African ancestors were able to accumulate knowledge about animals, plants and other organisms that impacted on their survival and their lives in general. Animals and plants that could be eaten or used in other ways (e.g. herbal remedies) would have been given names. By the time Europeans were making voyages of exploration round Africa (starting in 1488 AD with the voyage of Bartholomew Diaz) there was therefore already a vast body of indigenous knowledge about African biodiversity.

With the arrival of European explorers and settlers came the beginning of documentation of southern African biodiversity. This included the recording of firsthand observations but also the recording of knowledge already gained by the indigenous inhabitants. Inevitably, the identities of most of the individuals responsible for building our indigenous knowledge have been lost in the mists of time but we do need to recognise their role. Indigenous knowledge has become quite a politically sensitive matter because of the way in which African indigenous knowledge has been exploited by e.g. pharmaceutical firms, with no financial benefits acruiing to the communities who have held this knowledge. For more on this, see the South African Government's Indigenous Knowledge Systems Policy.

This section of Biodiversity Explorer is devoted to providing biographical information on people who have observed, collected or documented the biodiversity of southern Africa or who have been associated with biodiversity in some other way. They mainly include people who have authored papers and books (especially publications in which new species are named), who have been acknowledged by other authors, who have had organisms named after them, whose have collected specimens (and hence have their names listed on specimen labels and in specimen databases), or who have contributed relevant images or information on the internet.   It started out as a list of the collectors of insects and arachnids in this region and it remains largely such a list although with time, people who have been instrumental in documenting other taxonomic groups will also be included. Thus, please note that this list is VERY INCOMPLETE. However, I hope that you will find the information that is here useful.

ABBREVIATIONS: SAM South African Museum, Cape Town; TM Transvaal Museum, Pretoria; NM Natal Museum; NMB National Museum, Bloemfontein; NCI National Collection of Insects, Pretoria (part of PPRI); PPRI Plant Protection Research Institute; SM State Museum, Windhoek (now the National Museum of Namibia); DSAB Dictionary of South African Biography; G&C Gunn, M. and Codd, L.E. 1981. Botanical Exploration of southern Africa. A.A. Balkema, Cape Town, 400pp.

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