Wildlife Update : Candid Camera for Mammals at Risk

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International Herald Tribune Green Blog…

A new global study that uses remote camera traps to take photographs of wild mammals in their habitats suggests that fragmented habitat and the declining size of preserves worldwide are having a negative impact on mammal populations.

Researchers from Conservation International, a group based in Arlington, Va., set up 60 remote cameras during the dry season in reserves in Brazil, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Suriname, Tanzania, Laos and Uganda. Researchers later sifted through 52,000 photos of 105 species.

It’s a unique window onto what’s happening on the ground. The data shows that the breakdown in natural habitat is causing a decline in the diversity of mammals, in the variety of their sizes and in variations in their diets.

The problem of fragmentation is well known, the study’s lead author, the ecologist Jorge Ahumada, acknowledged. “But this is the first time it’s been studied like this at a global scale,” he said. “No matter where you are in the world, you see these problems.”

Insectivores like anteaters, armadillos and small primates fare the worst, perhaps because they are more specialized, he said.

There is good news as well from the study, which was published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. In Braulio Carillo, a park in Costa Rica, cameras snapped photos of a mountain tapir. “It’s very rare and has not been reported in the park for some time,” Dr. Ahumada said. “And some of the images even had babies. “

There was a wide range of species in the study, from the mouse opossum to the African elephant. Cameras also captured tourists who wandered by, and in two cases in Laos and Uganda, poachers. “People in Laos hunt pretty much everything that moves,” Dr. Ahumada said.

M. Sanjayan, the lead scientist for the Nature Conservancy, who was not part of the research but once captured the first image of a pygmy hippo with a camera trap, said the study was important. “I wish I’d done it,” he joked.

“I bet those cameras cost $200 apiece, and all told, that’s under a hundred grand,” he said. “It’s a relatively cheap way of sampling a big area. Five years ago you couldn’t have done it because of the cost.”

While seven sites were included in the original study, 10 more are now also being monitored.

Dr. Ahumada said that taking “specific target action” to protect these species was vital. “Without a systematic global approach to monitoring these animals and making sure the data gets to people making decisions, we are only recording their extinctions, not actually saving them,” he said.

The value of the project in terms of data will increase as long-term trends emerge, Mr. Sanjayan predicted.

Perhaps the chief value of the project for now, he said, is that it’s so visually striking. “It’s a great tool for getting the public’s attention,” he said. “It’s like candid camera.”

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2 thoughts on “Wildlife Update : Candid Camera for Mammals at Risk

  1. Pingback: Conservation Update : ‘Treehugger’ reports on how Projects Fight Food Insecurity « LEARN FROM NATURE

  2. Pingback: Wildlife Update : Britain’s mammals beasts and the battle to save them « LEARN FROM NATURE

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