A conservationist’s second set of eyes
Camera traps help conservationists learn a lot about wildlife in FZS project areas. In an interview with FZS staff member Eny, details on how the traps are set up, monitored and the benefit of the results that they provide are shared.
Eny has been working with camera traps in Bukit Tiga Puluh since 2017, leading a team of 10 rangers since 2019. Below she shares how and why camera traps are being used in this project area.
Hi Eny, can you start off by telling us what you do?
The Bukit Tiga Puluh landscape includes a National Park and buffer zone, together encompassing an area the size of nearly 265,000 soccer fields containing dense and hilly rainforest. How does your team observe the species living in this huge area?
Also, this type of survey is only possible during the day, which means nocturnal wildlife is missed out completely. These are problems that camera traps, which are essentially a specialized camera strapped to a tree or post, surpass because not only is this a non-intrusive method that can be left in the field to automatically turn on when the thermal or motion sensor is activated but they can also work at night, using invisible infrared flashlights.
The specific camera we have been using for our camera trap research since 2013 is the Bushnell Trophy trail camera. We use these ones in particular because of the great resolution that gives us nice clear pictures of the animals, the fact that they have passive infrared sensors as well as fast trigger speeds and the wide lens covers a large area.
How many cameras are set up in Bukit Tiga Puluh right now?
How often do they need to be checked? And how difficult is it to check them?
Checking the cameras is very straightforward, equivalent to checking a normal camera. But getting to them requires a great deal of physical endurance. Essentially our team needs to walk up to 100 km through very dense and hilly rainforest (Bukit Tiga Puluh translates to 30 hills in local language). Also, sometimes our team walks in harsh weather conditions to get to the cameras, which are placed where the animals are, so in really rural places. Not only that but we also have to carry all our heavy gear and enough supplies to last us several weeks. It can be tough.
How do you know where to put the cameras?
For Sumatran tigers, an animal we often monitor, we put up two cameras across from each other so that we can get a good look at the stipes on the animal because this is its unique identifying feature. Since 2013, I am happy to report, we have seen 34 adult tigers and five young tigers on camera footage. One of these tigers was an injured female who we saw a few times over the years. She had problems with her leg and we thought she wouldn’t survive, but she did! The cameras proved it!
How much time do you need to analyze the media from cameras afterward?
Our team’s ability to identify individual animals without needing to refer to field guide books on a frequent basis, is also a factor in how long the process takes. Currently we are lucky because most of the people in my team have more than 5 years experience with identifying wildlife in the area and using camera traps, so they are pretty fast at identifying individual animals. Also, I have trained them in wildlife identification and sometimes when we have time, I ask them to identify the animal on a random wildlife picture. Often, they are able to easily answer it! This makes me very proud.
Is the amount of time invested into setting up, checking up, and processing media from the cameras worth it?
For example, several years ago we recorded some wild animals who were injured or had physical deformities affecting their limbs, clearly caused by snares that were being set up nearby by poachers. The animals affected included wild boars, honey bears, Sumatran tigers and many more, it was sad to see. Based on these findings we were able to intensify our patrols in those areas and pay even more attention to finding and removing snares.
In addition, the images and videos have helped us create a book about the wildlife in Bukit Tiga Puluh. This book is available in English and the local language so it can be accessed by politicians, local community members and anyone else who wants to be further educated about the wildlife on their doorstep. Not only that but some of the footage taken from camera traps over the past few years in this region are also now available on the FZS YouTube channel.
Thank you for your time Eny!
In the next part of this series examples of how camera traps benefited FZS conservation efforts in FZS Europe projects will be shared, so stay tuned!
Images in header taken by (1) Daniel Rosengren (2 & 3) by FZS Indonesia camera trap team.