Mar 3

Camera trapping – photographing animals in the wild using automated digital cameras which are triggered by infrared motion sensors – has become an increasingly useful tool in wildlife conservation.

Camera-trap photo of a Persian leopard in the wild

Camera-trap photo of a Persian leopard in the wild

Revolutionary techniques

Allowing researchers and conservationists extraordinary insights into the behaviour of rare, enigmatic and often endangered species, the use of the camera trap has revolutionised the way in which scientists are able conduct their research in challenging and remote study locations.

The cameras are attached to posts or trees, often along forest trails or next to potential watering sites. When the camera’s sensor registers movement, or a change in temperature from an animal’s body heat, a photograph is taken.

Male Diard's clouded leopard caught on camera trap

Male Diard's clouded leopard caught on camera trap

A rare glimpse

Because camera traps can be left unattended in remote areas for lengthy periods of time, the photographs they produce enable scientists to build up long-term pictures of the biodiversity in an area, and aid them in monitoring population trends.

Despite often coming back with spectacular and captivating snapshots of animals in the wild, in general, the photographs that the cameras produce rarely reach the public eye.

Arabian tahr photographed by camera trap

Arabian tahr photographed by camera trap

Helping the public uncover the secrets of the animal world

However, a new website, SmithsonianWILD, is set to provide the public with a chance to view a huge collection of camera trap imagery and videos. The Smithsonian, which supports research around the world, has been working to compile more than 202,000 camera trap images from over seven of its projects, gathering them together to form an online searchable database.

William McShea, research wildlife biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, says that the SmithsonianWILD website will “provide the public a glimpse of what the scientist sees when surveying remote places”.

Taken in some of the world’s most isolated regions, the photographs currently document more than 200 species found in a great variety of habitats, ranging from the jungles and plains of South America and Africa to the Giant Panda Reserves in China.

Not every photo is beautiful but every photo provides information that can be used to conserve wild animals. It is addictive to scroll through the photos at a single site and see the diversity that walks by a single camera in the forest” explains McShea.

Small-eared zorro photographed on camera trap

Small-eared zorro photographed on camera trap

All of the photos are untouched and appear exactly as they did when they were taken from the cameras. The site also provides links to social media platforms such as Flickr, Twitter and Facebook to encourage the public to share and comment on the photos.

Like ARKive, the SmithsonianWILD website will provide a valuable tool for scientists and the public, helping to raise awareness of some of the world’s most threatened species and highlighting the incredible diversity of life on Earth.

Visit the SmithsonianWILD website.

Explore camera trap images on ARKive

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

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