While monitoring wildlife is important for conservation efforts, it can often be a hard task to accomplish. For example, how can biologists know the status of a species' population – or if a certain species is even found in an area – if the animal is nocturnal, rare or elusive? Wildlife populations and population trends must be assessed through monitoring systems, and although this might appear to be an easy task of simply walking outside and counting the species observed, in reality it is much more difficult.
When direct monitoring systems such as audio or visual confirmation are not possible, researchers must turn to indirect methods for tracking or surveying wildlife. One such method is camera trapping.
Camera trapping is a system that allows photographs of wildlife to be taken even when humans are not present. In order to accomplish this, "traps" – cameras with infrared sensors enclosed in waterproof casings – are set in wildlife areas. The infrared sensor detects heat and motion, so that whenever a living object crosses in front of the trap a photo is taken.
There are a number of types of camera traps that can be used in the field. CI's camera traps are one-piece systems, with the camera and sensor both housed in a single casing. The cameras and film used are similar to ones anyone could use to take pictures of friends and family. These cameras can take accurate pictures up to 6m, with the lag time between pictures being set anywhere between 20 seconds and 45 minutes. A typical role of film in a CI camera trap set in the wilderness usually lasts 10 weeks.
IN PHOTOS: See a series of images of pandas from a camera trap in China
Placement and timing are very important in camera trapping. To find the best spot to capture the most wildlife on film, researchers must study an area, looking for signs of animals, such as tracks and scat. Generally the more signs of wildlife seen, the more photos researchers will get.
Camera traps are usually secured and locked to trees to help inhibit humans or wildlife from stealing or harming them. Camera placement on the tree itself is also important. If the camera is placed too high, many animals will be missed. If the camera is placed lower, more wildlife will be seen but the pictures may cut-off an animal's upper body or head. Ultimately, the placement of the camera depends on the overall goal of the project.
Most camera traps also have a sensor to detect daylight, allowing researchers to determine what time of day they want their cameras to be active. This is usually determined by whether the wildlife being studied is diurnal or nocturnal.
Getting good animal shots is not left entirely to fate either; attractants and lures are used to bait animals into approaching camera traps. Different lures are used for different species. For example, when trying to attract felines sprayed scents are used, but when trying to attract large rodents peanut butter is more effective. These attractants help increase the likelihood that if the animals being looked for are present, they will be caught on film.
Monitoring with camera traps is an excellent way of determining wildlife populations, however, it is not perfect. While camera trapping is a scientifically valid way to determine the wildlife present in a certain region, it cannot be used to determine the absence of a species. Another difficulty in using this monitoring method is that it requires finding someone who can go to the remote areas to change film or fix a broken camera. However, the rewards outweigh the disadvantages, as camera traps allow researchers to photograph wildlife in their natural habitat and capture otherwise potentially undetectable animals on film.
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