Camera trap image © Penny Gardner DGFC - Sabah Wildlife Department
Go Orange for Orangutans is raising funds for a new camera trap study, aiding orangutan research in Borneo. We thought we’d give you an insight into camera traps, what they’re used for and why they’ve become such an important conservation tool.
How do camera traps work?
You don’t need to sit and wait for your subject to appear with a camera trap. Camera traps are tied onto trees or posts in areas where animals are expected to move, and are then left in place for up to several weeks. They automatically take a photo or video once they have been triggered, the trigger being an infrared sensor which is activated by either heat or motion when an animal passes in front of it.
Camera traps can take a series of photos in rapid sequence; useful when your subject is moving at a fast pace! They can also take photos at specified times; this can be useful when trying to obtain information about life cycles or how a species is responding to changes in its environment e.g. are they more active at night?
Recent advances in technology have allowed scientists to refine early camera trap techniques. Camera traps now have longer battery lives, improved designs, more reliable trigger mechanisms and reduced size. Modern camera traps can also withstand harsh conditions, such as extreme temperatures and harsh winds.
How can camera traps be used in conservation?
The use of camera traps is becoming increasingly popular in wildlife conservation. Camera traps enable scientists to build up a picture about species behaviour and population dynamics. From the images and footage provided by camera traps, estimations can be made regarding presence, absence, abundance and diversity. Camera trap imagery can also be used during studies to recognise individuals of a species by their distinctive patterns and markings.
Photos taken using camera traps have aided some interesting scientific discoveries; scientists have identified new species, obtained evidence of species living in areas that haven’t been seen for many years and have even captured feeding and mating behaviours. Improved camera trap technology has allowed scientists to survey elusive species and position traps in previously inaccessible and unexplored areas.
What are the advantages of camera traps as a monitoring tool?
There are many advantages of using camera traps. Once positioned, they require little effort to maintain and can remain active in the field for approximately two months. The greatest benefit of using camera traps is that they are non-invasive and discrete; therefore they cause minimal disturbance to animals and their surrounding environments. Furthermore, many modern cameras utilise an infrared flash instead of the traditional white-light flash, again this minimises the disturbance to the animal.
Camera trap use in our projects
Many of our project partners use camera traps in the field. Our partners in Nigeria who have been using video camera traps in the Gashaka Gumti National Park have identified a rich diversity of animals living in the forest including some species which had not previously been recorded in the area.
We also help fund camera traps in Chyulu Hills National Park, Tanzania, which increase the monitoring and protection of one of the last free-ranging populations of black rhinos. Some of our other projects have revealed some previously unknown behavioural characteristics through camera trapping such as the use of armadillo burrows as shelter by a number of other species.
Take a look at some of the best camera trap images from our projects for last year.
I am Naomi Matthews, Conservation Assistant at Chester Zoo and I Act for Wildlife