Scientists use camera traps to create the world’s largest image database of Amazonian wildlife

For conservation research, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has set up hundreds of camera capture stations throughout the Amazon basin to capture photos and video footage of the area’s wildlife. The results provide rare insight into the animals’ daily lives and habits. Hundreds of scholars have contributed to this extensive project, including Krisna Gajapersad of Conservation International Suriname. My Modern Met reports on this unique camera trap study.

“Many of the more mysterious species are incredibly difficult to study because they are so hard to spot, either because they are rare, timid, nocturnal or all (!), but there are many one to two month camera traps that last from one to two months,” said Robert Wallace, Director of WCS’ Greater Madidi-Tambopata. Landscape Program and co-author of the study.

“Camera traps capture animals when they least expect them, for example, a giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) bathing in mud, a tufted eagle (Morphnus guianensis) drinking and bathing in a pool of water, or a cougar (Puma concolor) napping.”

Photo credits: Wildlife Conservation Society, Ecuador

Over 120,000 images of nearly 300 species in 8 countries

Data were collected over two decades from 143 field sites in the Amazon Basin. WCS submitted more than 57,000 images for use in a new study involving researchers from more than 100 institutions. The latest study, published in the scientific journal Ecology, collected a collection of more than 120,000 images of nearly 300 species in eight Amazon countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. The main aim of the research was to create a database of images of Amazonian wildlife while documenting habitat loss, fragmentation, and the effects of climate change.

It has become the largest existing image database of Amazon animals. This is the first time that images from camera traps in different regions have been aggregated and consolidated on such a large scale. Upon completion of the study, the researchers had 154,123 images of 317 species, including 185 birds, 119 mammals, and 13 reptiles. Of all the mammals photographed, the one most captured was the spotted or low paca (Cuniculus paca), a type of rodent. In total, the small furry creature has been recorded nearly 12,000 times.

The most watched bird was the red-billed crow (Pauxi tuberosa), which is depicted in the film more than 3,700 times. The most common reptile was the golden tegu lizard (Tupinambis teguixin), which was seen on camera 716 times.

Jaguar: The Wildlife Icon of the Amazon

But of all the images included in the study, the most important species for most of the group was the jaguar (Panthera onca), considered by some to be the “symbol of Amazonian wildlife.”

Although they were developed nearly a century ago, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that camera traps were used to study wildlife. However, it has since become an indispensable tool for conservation and wildlife research. It is a simple, non-invasive way of collecting information about the environment, and as technology has advanced, it is only becoming more and more useful. This new study highlights its importance in more ways than one.

“With growing concerns about the impact of climate change on the distribution and abundance of wildlife, this aggregated database provides a basis for us to track changes over time in the future,” Wallace said. “It is also important to emphasize that analytical techniques are constantly evolving, and making this data available is a huge step forward for science and wildlife in the Amazon region.”

Suriname

The editorial board of Dagblad Suriname contacted Krisna Gajapersad of Conservation International Suriname and the Wildlife Conservation Society to answer the question of what kind of animal, in what numbers and where animal species in Suriname were “caught” with camera traps under the image database. There was no response until the time to go to the press.

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