© Diego Mosquera 2019

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The "Proyecto Camaras"

The desire to observe wildlife without altering it goes back to the hunter-gatherers who built the first "blinds" (camouflaged places from where you have a good view of animals without them noticing). Today our ability to observe wildlife has been enriched thanks to the development of photography and more recently, the development of technological innovations (small batteries, easy to charge, led lights and above all, digital equipment). Now we can observe a great variety of wildlife that inhabits different habitats, at any time and under the most extreme climatic conditions.

 

 

Thanks to this "new" technology (cameras that are triggered when an animal goes in front of it) we have managed to have unprecedented access to various life forms that inhabit our ecosystems. And the best part, without disturbing them! Even people without any scientific training can now ask themselves questions as simple as "¿what animals visit my garden at night?". Wildlife scholars use photo-trapping equipment to ask a little deeper questions, such as "¿What animals inhabit a given area?", "¿What are they doing when they are active?" or even "¿How many are there?" Finding and discovering rare or cryptic species (species which camouflage very well), trying to establish the distribution of species, documenting their eating habits, monitoring their behavior or estimating the size of populations are tasks now answered with the help of remote photography. These photographs, without a doubt, are worth much more than words!

Camera traps have been used successfully to study animal populations, mainly felids, but also for other species such as Coyotes (Canis latrans), Spectacled bears (Tremarctos ornatus), Black bears (Ursus americanus), Antelopes (Cephalophus harvey), Tapirs (Tapirus terrestris) and many, many other species. Undoubtedly, camera-traps have become an important tool for monitoring terrestrial species that are rare or cryptic.

 

But ¿why study animals with camera traps? Sadly, habitat destruction is without doubt the most serious threat facing biodiversity worldwide, and if we do not know more about animals, we can not protect them. Throughout the last century, the extinction of species has accelerated so much that it is estimated that nowadays the species are extinguished 1000 times faster than what could be expected due to natural causes. And yes, we are to blame. On a global scale, the ecology of many species of carnivores and other groups still remains poorly understood, so we do not know how these species respond to changes in their habitat and variations in their populations. This is a good excuse to study them and is a challenge for conservation biology, because the decline of wild animal populations is a very serious problem. Around the world, most carnivores, especially large felids (cats), canids (dogs) and urids (bears) face multiple pressures. As said before, the loss and degradation of habitat, indiscriminate hunting and illegal trade seriously threaten these species. But conserving species implies not only the knowledge of their ecology but also the conservation of spaces that are critical for their survival.

 

Photos: Diego Mosquera / Proyecto Cámaras TBS

At the end of 2004, Tiputini, thanks to a National Geographic grant, acquired a dozen camera traps. These cameras are mounted in the forest and are activated by heat and movement sensors. We started a pioneering project in Ecuador, which we called "Proyecto Cameras", and was created with several objectives in mind. First, we wanted to know what animals live in the forest. One can spend hours and hours in the forest without seeing a single animal, but that does not mean they are not there. It means, rather, that they hide very well. The idea was to initiate a long-term monitoring with trap cameras to obtain information about the occurrence, distribution patterns and relative abundance of mammals and land birds and to see how those patterns change over time. The goal is to develop a baseline before human activities increase in the region. Although the levels of alteration of the area have increased at some level (for example, smaller scale hunting along the Tiputini River, seismic prospecting activities in the eastern and southern area of ​​the Station, within the PNY by the concession to companies oil), the area still remains mostly intact. Therefore, the generation of information is directly influenced by the time factor.

 

We also wanted to document the importance of mineral areas (called salt licks ) as resources for different species (eg, tapirs or deer) and how the use of these areas varies not only between species but seasonally. Salt licks are vital resources for certain species, but they are spatially and temporally variable in occurrence. Furthermore, given that these areas are targeted by indigenous people and hunters, documenting their importance can facilitate efforts to conserve those areas as soon as possible.

The results we have obtained demonstrate the importance of protecting Yasuní. To date we have more than 250,000 wildlife images that confirm that wildlife remains abundant in the remote parts of the region. Very rare and elusive animals like the short-eared dog, jaguarundis or giant armadillos have been photographed with the cameras. We have seen huge densities of deer, peccaries and tapirs and the densities of ocelots and jaguars seem to be much higher than anywhere else. Jaguars, for example, require large areas of territory to survive. Within the area of the Station we have registered more than 20 different jaguars in the last 13 years. We can differentiate jaguars by the pattern of spots on their fur, which is unique in each individual. In the same way, we have detected at least 50 different ocelots, many in the same space and time.

 

 


 

The use of trap cameras has revealed a large amount of information about the fauna of the area. Because our study has focused on a place without any pressure or hunting, we can assume that the forest is in a state very similar to what the Amazon may have been before the first arrival of humans. of 10,000 years. This makes the Tiputini Biodiversity Station an even more valuable site for research, since the scientific method in its purest form requires a checkpoint for all comparisons. We have then established an extensive data set that represents a "before" in one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth. Reasons abound to continue our studies and to make every effort to keep the place in a natural state. And not only TBS but the entire region that surrounds us. It is important, as far as possible, to keep the area free of substantial human interference, especially hunting.

 

 

 

Most of the info in this page came from this sources:

-Dr Kelly Swing (pers com)

Blake JG , Mosquera D, B Loiselle, J. Guerra, D Romo and K Swing , 2017. La utulización de cámaras trampa para documentar la ocurrencia y distribución de grandes mamíferos y aves en la Estación de Biodiversidad Tiputini. Pp:57-72. In: Romo D & D Mosquera (Eds). Los Secretos del Yasuní: Avances en la Investigación del Bosque Tropical: Estación de Biodiversidad Tiputini, Universidad San Francisco de Quito. I Edition, Editorial USFQ, ISBN 978-9978-68-105-3

O’Connel, A., Nichols, J.D., Karanth K.U., 2011. Camera Traps in Animal Ecology. Methods and Analyses. Springer. ISBN 978-4-431-99494-7