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City Nature Challenge



Cape Town: Most biodiverse city on Earth

Above: City Nature Challenge 2019 Leaderboard, iNaturalist website.


Last year the City of Cape Town became rated as the most biodiverse city in the world. It was the first city in South Africa to participate in the City Nature Challenge, a global event where over four days citizens can find and document as many different living species as possible within their urban areas. In 2019 Cape Town won the City Nature Challenge with a landslide victory with 54 120 observations made and 4 610 different species identified.

What is the City Nature Challenge?

Above: City Nature Challenge 2020: www.citynaturechallenge.org


The Challenge was first launched in 2016 in honour of Citizen Science Day, and is hosted by the biodiversity documentation platform and community of iNaturalist, which is a joint initiative between the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographical Society.

The City Nature Challenge at home

Above: We can turn our focus to our homes and gardens for this year’s City Nature Challenge. Photo: Eleanor Yeld Hutchings.


This year in southern Africa Cape Town is participating again, also joined by the Garden Route, Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and Durban as well as Gaborone in Botswana. However, the arrival of COVID-19 and associated social distancing has meant that the City Nature Challenge looks quite different this year. Southern Africa is under lockdown and we can no longer head out in groups to our local urban nature reserves, national parks and urban open spaces.

However, biodiversity is certainly not cancelled. While the world beyond may be in turmoil, we can turn our focus to our homes and gardens, which are home to a surprising array of wildlife and plants. We can still join in the City Nature Challenge, whether from a tiny apartment or back yard or a larger outdoor or indoor space. The whole family can get involved, becoming citizen scientists at home.

How do I get involved?

Above: iNaturalist platform: www.inaturalist.org


The City Nature Challenge 2020 will be taking place from 24-27 April, with iNaturalist identifications for City Nature Challenge being permitted up until the 3 May. Simply download the iNaturalist app to your smartphone and start photographing and sharing any plants or wildlife in your outdoor or indoor space. Photos can also be taken on a camera with their located noted and then be uploaded to the iNaturalist website to share them with the iNaturalist community.

More information on the City Nature Challenge.

More information on iNaturalist.

How can I find wildlife and plants in my home or garden?

The iNaturalist team have come up with a host of useful tips on how to attract and spot wildlife and plants in your home and garden. We will share a few of them here to help you get started on your biodiversity hunting adventure.

Look out for pollinators visiting any plants in flower visiting your yard or garden, from sunbirds to insects such as bees. Patience is often rewarded here by sitting quietly in view of your chosen plant to see what creatures visit. Smaller insects and other creatures can be photographed with a magnifying glass or zoomed in so that identifying features are visible.

Why not make a compost heap in your garden? Minimal space is needed here. Use it to add any uncooked biodegradable kitchen and garden scraps such as fruit and vegetable peels and cores and soft non-woody garden waste. Return regularly and check for any interesting insects and other creatures setting up home here.

Make a wildlife feeding station: Overripe or rotting fruit, particularly bananas, can be used to attract birds and insects into your garden. Bread can also be used: Visiting wildlife won’t mind if it is mouldy or stale. Make sure your feeding station is out of reach of any resident dogs or cats and if possible in a semi-shaded position. You can also put out water, or even make a bird bath.

Look around your home for any geckoes, house spiders or other small creatures such as ants. Remember that spiders are a great help around your home in catching unwanted visitors such as mosquitoes, so don’t unnecessarily persecute them. In your garden look for insects and other wildlife by looking underneath any wood, paving stones or rotting logs.

Don’t forget to explore your garden and home for wildlife at night as well as during the day. Many creatures such as geckoes and moths are nocturnal, only coming out at night. Plants that become more strongly scented at night are out to attract night-time moth visitors, and look out for moths resting on walls where they may be attracted to outside lighting.

Cultivated plants count as observations towards the City Nature Challenge, especially if they are eaten, pollinated or parasitized by other organisms. What plants do you have growing in your home or garden? Simply photograph the leaves, any flowers/seedheads and a pic of the whole plant for easy naming by iNaturalist ID teams. For garden/indoor plants simply select the ‘cultivated/captive’ option when uploading your observation to iNaturalist. And don’t forget to look for goggas in the soil beneath the plants and under the pots.

Happy exploring….

Even though we cannot go out to our local nature reserves and other green areas, there is still much fun to be had documenting the surprising plethora of biodiversity to be found in our homes and gardens. We wish you all the very best at this challenging time. Stay safe and keep well.


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