|Spectacled bear, a species thought to have vanished from Colombia’s Arrierito Antioqueño Nature Reserve|
|Pampas cat camera trap photo taken at Blue-throated Macaw Resereve|
|Caught by a camera trap: a jaguar in the Amazon Basin
By the mid-20th century, the natural landscape surrounding Colombia’s Arrierito Antioqueño Nature Reserve had been razed by waves of gold miners followed by cattle ranchers that left the region’s once abundant forests in a fragmented state. Along with other species requiring large undisturbed areas for survival, the Spectacled bear – the only bear species found in South America – fled the area. Unobserved for decades, local inhabitants and conservationists assumed that the bears, which live in elevated tree nests, were no longer part of the local ecosystem.
All doubts about the bear’s presence, however, were unexpectedly dispelled earlier this year when a park guard, José Aycardo Echaverría, snapped several shots of a Spectacled bear traveling through the reserve using camera trap photography. Since the presence of Spectacled bears is typically equated with good ecosystem health, the photos acted as something of a natural report card with high marks for the conservation efforts of Rainforest Trust and its Colombian partner ProAves, which administers the reserve.
Not only does camera trap photography aid conservationists in confirming the presence of elusive species (Colombian tapirs and Pampas cats have been found in Rainforest Trust reserves this way), but it also serves as a tool to track populations of endangered animals, draw distribution maps, monitor animal behavior, and estimate wildlife populations. Camera trap photography’s broader appeal, its ability to connect people with wildlife in new, unprecedented ways, lies in the candid glimpses it offers of nocturnal and reclusive species that easily thwart traditional photographic efforts.
With over a million camera trap photos now recorded, and camera trap images saturating the internet, the near-total obscurity that once cloaked the lives of many animals during pre-camera trap days seem a long way off.
In fact, it is a long way off. The first camera trap photos date back to the late 1880’s when George Shiras III, a young lawyer, whose father, George Shiras Jr., had served as a Supreme Court Justice, began experimenting with nighttime photography. Shiras pioneered the camera trap technique by attaching a trip wire to a magnesium flash gun mounted near his camera; and although he eventually went on to serve as a Pennsylvanian Congressman, his photographic achievements outlasted his political triumphs. Among other things, he holds credit for taking the first published camera trap photo – an iconic image of terrified deer fleeing into the night – which was featured in National Geographic in 1906.
Although camera trap photography continued to be practiced over the next 100 years, advancement in the field stalled until 2006, when George Steinmetz, another National Geographic photographer, was tasked with the unenviable job of capturing of Arizona’s mountain lions on film. Despite his inability to photograph the elusive animals in person, Steinmetz persevered and devised an ingenious way to get the needed photo. By connecting an entry level digital camera to a movement-triggered infrared beam at a key watering hole, Steinmetz captured the photos of a young, cautious-looking mountain lion, and in the process, launched camera trap photography into the digital age.
The advantages of camera trap photography have revolutionized the way conservationists and scientists study wildlife in the field. The ease and price of camera traps make them less costly and time consuming than traditional trapping and catch-and-release methods used to study animals. Camera traps are also minimally intrusive, causing little or no impacts to wildlife. In addition, the still images they produce can be reviewed by teams of scientists, reducing the chance of individual subjective errors.
Recognizing the enormous rewards that camera traps can contribute towards successful conservation, Rainforest Trust has provided its Colombian Partner, ProAves, with over 30 camera trap sets, which have been installed in reserves throughout the county.
To see how José Aycardo Echaverría set up the camera traps he used to confirm the Spectacled bear’s presence in the Arrierito Antioqueño Nature Reserve, check out our video below.