Camera-traps help conservationists track speeding wildlife

Camera traps can be used to track the movements of wildlife without having to catch, tag or directly observe them, shows a study by leading scientists at international conservation charity the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), published in the journal Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation.

Travel speed and day range are key behaviours that critically influence a range of processes affecting wildlife conservation, including energy use, feeding success, the spread of disease and human-wildlife conflict. 

Currently, data on speed and range are usually collected via invasive telemetry technology, or time-consuming direct observation. The use of camera-traps to collect these data is an entirely new approach that allows us to gather data on many individuals of many species at the same time, with potential for positive impacts across the conservation research sector. 

A tamandua (a kind of anteater) speeding past a camera trap
A tamandua (a kind of anteater) speeding past a camera trap

The paper tests the new method with a study of 12 terrestrial mammal species in Panama. Estimates of travel speeds were made from camera trap images and then compared with independent estimates obtained by traditional animal tracking methods. The resulting comparisons showed that camera-based estimates were in line with speeds that would be expected, providing strong support for the camera methodology. 

Commenting on the research, lead author Dr Marcus Rowcliffe from ZSL’s Institute of Zoology said: “While camera traps are now widely used to estimate the abundance and diversity of wildlife, using them to estimate animal speeds brings their use into the realm of tracking studies for the first time. 

“This approach doesn’t replace tracking, but it does provide an exciting new dimension to camera trap surveys. Coupled with emerging techniques in computer vision, we hope that these methods will allow us to accurately estimate movement rates in the wild for a wider range of species than ever before, contributing to our conservation research efforts.”

This study was conducted in collaboration with scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Wageningen University, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the Max Planck Institute.

An ocelot with dinner, caught on camera trap in Panama
An ocelot with dinner, caught on camera trap in Panama

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Scientists from ZSL's Institute of Zoology have been using camera traps to track the speed and day range of animals.
Scientists from ZSL's Institute of Zoology have been using camera traps to track the speed and day range of animals.

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