Wildlife conservationists can’t be everywhere, nor can they be watching for animals nonstop. Combined with the sheer size of many wildlife preserves, mortal concerns such as the need for sleep, food, and bathroom breaks are a severe hindrance to the conservationists’ good work. Luckily, technology is here to save the day, and has really been doing so since the 90s.
If you’ve ever wondered why all the tigers look so surprised in that issue of National Geographic, you only need to look as far as the modern-day camera trap. Armed with motion sensors and flash photography, these traps* sit silently in the jungle, waiting for a passing otter or a snooping tiger to set them off. Many also give off a pre-flash first, as a bit of a mechanical, “Smile for the camera”. Their effectiveness is proven, both for wildlife photographers and conservationists alike. Perhaps most importantly, they also allow people to monitor habitats without disturbing the normal activities of the wildlife. Some time ago, I wrote about research conducted at Michigan State University, East Lansing, which discovered that Nepalese tigers had shifted their active hours to avoid people. You can read about it here.
On Monday, a paper published in PLOS One reported that the camera trap has once again paid off. A rare species of cat (a strange sentence to write in this internet age) was caught on film by scientists from the Zoological Society of London and Imperial College London. Native to the forests of Borneo, the Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia) and other endangered felids of the region often eluded conservationists due to their low numbers—even in pristine habitats. The research credits revised placement techniques of camera traps to the new sightings, citing that random placement was more effective than traditional methods. Damp conditions, battery life, and vandalism by both animals and people alike led scientists to favor placement that yielded a high quantity of data.
As the technology improves, the authors surmise that random placement will yield better results and find new creatures where we aren’t looking for them.
Update: You can view a video of the Bay Cat at the Imperial College London website.
*Unlike conventional traps, they do not risk harming the animal. They only capture photographs. Or souls. If you believe in that stuff.