As part of BAM’s Science Program and within the framework of the strategic alliance with the San Diego Zoo, between August and November 2022 we installed more than one hundred camera traps in the jungles of our property in Campo Verde (Ucayali, Peru) in order to record, identify and quantify the vast diversity of fauna species found in our forests.
Thanks to this, we were able to record the presence of rare species that are very sensitive to human presence in an area of more than 20,000 hectares of forest protected by BAM. The results allowed us to affirm that the area of the REDD+ The Last Habitat conservation project has a very high fauna richness despite its proximity to one of the most populated cities in the Peruvian Amazon: Pucallpa.
In this article, we will take you through a series of questions that arouse curiosity and promote informed discussion about the technology, science and innovation surrounding camera traps, all answered by Jose Luis Mena, scientific coordinator of San Diego Zoo.
This interview was conducted on September 20, 2023.
How do camera traps work, what advantages do they give researchers and what is their purpose in wildlife research?
Camera traps are devices that automatically record the wildlife present at a site, thanks to the help of a motion sensor. This is activated when it detects the presence of an animal and takes pictures or videos according to the programming of the equipment. In research, they are a key tool for recording wildlife, estimating its distribution and abundance, and understanding the effect of potential threats, which is important for taking conservation measures.
What factors are considered when selecting camera trap locations in the forest?
First, we must have a research question to guide the study. If we are interested in knowing how vegetation influences the distribution of a species, or the proximity to a potential threat, we could distribute the cameras according to these variables. Once the design to be used has been defined, the installation of the camera itself requires cleaning the immediate surroundings to ensure that there are no obstacles that prevent us from obtaining a good photograph, within a radius of approximately 3 to 4 meters.
Why are camera traps so relevant in the protection of threatened or endangered animals? How can camera traps contribute to the identification of individuals (in the case of certain species) and in the identification of threats to fauna in the Amazon?
Many endangered species are locally rare and elusive; that is, difficult to observe. Camera traps, being remote and non-invasive devices, allow the recording of these species, providing information on their abundance and distribution. For the particular case of species that present natural markings that are unique at the individual level, such as the spots on jaguars, ocelots and margays found in the forests protected by BAM, it is possible to identify individuals in the photographs to count their number and know how they move in the study area; key information to estimate their abundance using capture and spatial recapture models.
How was the process of installing the camera traps in the forests protected by BAM? (REDD+ The Last Habitat
First, we drew up a map of the area with the information provided by BAM and established a sampling design to cover the largest possible area of the forests protected by the company, considering the different types of vegetation present. We used a standard design, which contemplates a distance between stations (each with a pair of cameras) of 2 km from each other. We installed two cameras, one on each side of the trails with the intention of obtaining photographs from both sides of the species with natural markings, especially jaguars.
What was the data collection process like and what results did you find?
The cameras were operational between August 4 and November 29, 2022, comprising a total effort of 4,779 days/camera. Each of the photographs was entered into a database (Camera Base) which allows us to better manage the information. Species identification in the photographs was performed using artificial intelligence (AI) and was developed at the Conservation Technologies Laboratory of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance in San Diego, USA. We recorded 36 mammal species, 8 bird species and 1 reptile. The most common species were the añuje (Dasyprocta fuliginosa), the opossum (Didelphis marsupialis) and the majáz (Cuniculus paca). We also recorded the puma (Puma concolor), the jaguar (Panthera onca), the sachavaca (Tapirus terrestres), and the ashy deer (Mazama nemorivaga), among others.
On the other hand, some species categorized as “Vulnerable” species such as the flag antpitta (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) and species categorized as “Endangered” species such as the giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) were found in the list of “Endangered” species of Peru (SERFOR, 2018, Libro Rojo de la Fauna Silvestre Amenazada del Perú. First edition. Serfor, Lima, Peru, pp 1- 548)*.
Additionally, species listed in several IUCN categories were found:
- Flagship Antbird (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) as Vulnerable (VU).
- Giant Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) as Endangered (EN)
- Tapir or sachavaca (Tapirus terrestris) as Vulnerable (VU)
How have technology, innovation and leaps in science influenced the evolution of camera traps and their ability to collect more accurate data in remote areas? How do you see the future impact of this tool?
In the beginning, cameras used the old film cameras, which presented many challenges, such as changing film and batteries. Currently, cameras have greatly improved their sensors, their size, their cost, they now allow taking videos, they are fully digital, they optimize the use of energy, among others. These improvements have made it possible to leave them for more than 3 months without the need for revision, which is important for the study of remote areas. With greater accessibility due to connectivity, it could be possible to send information in real time, which contributes to a more optimal monitoring; critical for conservation. At the same time, artificial intelligence allows us to process the large number of images collected by the cameras (almost 100,000 in the case of BAM) in much less time, enabling us to take rapid action for conservation.
Do you have any additional data you would like to share with us?
We recorded some species that were not part of the direct objective of the sampling, which was focused on terrestrial species (no cameras were installed in trees). These included 5 primate species, the giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) and several photographs of the raccoon (Procyon cancrivorus), a rare speciesassociated with areas close to aquatic environments.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of species, including predators such as jaguar and puma, in the forests protected by BAM located relatively close to the city of Pucallpa. This implies a great deal of work in the coexistence between people and fauna”. – mentions José Luis Mena, scientific coordinator of San Diego Zoo.
BAM’s commitment to continue protecting these forests remains unwavering, as we innovate with our work in science and technology to develop projects that add value to the forest, its ecosystems and extraordinary biodiversity, while improving the quality of life of local populations in the Amazon.
More about BAM
Our REDD+ The Last Habitat conservation project located in Campo Verde, Ucayali, protects more than 20,000 hectares of forest and its extraordinary biodiversity.
Don’t miss the details of BAM’s Science Program here!
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BAM, private investment for a sustainable world.
By: Valeria Drinot