Wildlife monitoring has benefited of late by a slew of technological advances that have made recording data on animals less invasive, more accurate, cheaper and altogether more varied. In today’s world of applied conservation, we have learned that drones are effective in wildlife surveys, automated wildlife acoustic monitoring can eavesdrop on everything from bats to vaquitas, and that DNA can now be extracted and sequenced with devices as small as a USB drive. But topping the list of technological innovations in 2017 are cameras – whether mounted on drones, animals themselves, placed in trees, or triggered remotely.
Why do camera trapping in the Amazon rainforest?
Camera trap technology has come a long way from when the first bulky cameras were connected to motion sensors for the primary purpose of helping hunters monitor target animals on their property. Today, you can convert your high-quality DSLR camera into a camera trap, make a simple camera trap from scratch out of any digital camera, record both video and stills, trigger rapid-fire photographs, use infra-red flash technology to reduce startling of animals, and place your cameras almost anywhere – even in the top of the rainforest canopy. All of these have strong conservation impacts (reviewed here), and technology even exists today that can automatically identify animals spotted in traps using deep-learning.
For a comprehensive view of camera-traps see the best-practices protocol published by the WWF in the UK here.
With FPI this summer, participants will work on three main projects:
Project 1: Advanced camera trapping: In this project, participants will learn to construct, install, monitor and derive data from DSLR camera traps for mammal monitoring. We will be constructing these specifically for prolonged use, and will explore principles related to the best camera settings for low-level light conditions under a rainforest canopy, balancing multiple flashes and fine-tuning motion detection for the detection of a varying range of mammals.
In 2012, scientists deployed a network of 120 camera traps in Peru’s pristine Manu National Park, at least two-thirds of which were in the trees. They called it the Tree Top Manu Project. The results were nothing short of breathtaking. They captured footage of endangered but magnificent harpy eagles, and two large primate species (woolly and spider monkeys) – a total of 24 arboreal species.
To replicate these findings, we will also be providing tree-climbing training to participants to launch camera traps in the canopy for the first time at the EBLA.
Project 2: Designing camera traps with sensors: FPI’s main research project was originally centered around the mark-recapture program of wild tamarins (read more about it here). In this project, we will be setting up Wifi mesh Raspberry Pi camera trap systems that we will build to incorporate a variety of sensors for noninvasive data collection on the tamarins. By placing these modules strategically at feeding stations and frequently used pathways, we hope to create systems that can detect individual IDs by reading microchips, measure animal weights, and take images of animals – all of which will be relayed back to camp on a wireless signal we broadcast through the rainforest. Additionally, we will record environmental variables like temperature and humidity at various sites in the rainforest that are commonly used by these, our favorite, study subjects.
Project 3: Storytelling with Photography: Research is often only understood by the scientific community, mainly because it is portrayed in a way that is hard for the average person to understand or relate to. We at FPI believe that this is one of the main reasons why scientists are portrayed as risk-taking, unethical, automatons who will cross any line to further their (often sinister) missions. However, the bulk of conservation efforts are funded and supported by people entirely outside of this space. Learning how to effectively communicate science through one of the most powerful outlets – that of photographs and media – can and does make all the difference. In this program, you will shadow wildlife biologists on all the FPI research teams, capturing the intricacies of their work – from the eureka moments to those of abject frustration – with the aim of producing several complete photostories and series that we can use to transform the way science and scientists are viewed in today’s world. For an example of a photostory we loved producing, see here.
Additional skills all participants will learn:
- GPS navigation off-trail
- Animal tracking using radio-telemetry
- Interviews with scientists
- Video recording
At the end of this program, research assistants will be able to:
- Construct a DSLR camera trap with external lighting
- Build Raspberry Pi camera traps with additional sensors for data collection (weight, microchip readers, humidity, temperature, etc.)
- Use photographs and media to effectively draw attention to and communicate the intricacies of documenting scientific research and those who do it
- Learn lighting techniques to capture effective images in varying situations
- Learn safe tree climbing techniques to place and retrieve arboreal camera traps.
- Process images that are taken on different camera systems to get the best image quality for use online and print
- Store and process data in an effective manner so it can be accessed easily later for use in analysis
- Manage and work on assignments in a field situation like no other
We are currently recruiting participants with the following requirements. If you are uncertain if you are eligible, contact us to confirm.
- Participants must be at least 18 years of age by the time the training program begins
- Participants must demonstrate a grounding or strong interest in photography and biology
- Previous field experience is not required, but previous photography experience is a plus
- If participants are afraid of heights this must be mentioned during the interview process
- Participants must justify why this program is important to them, and what they hope to gain from it
- Participants must provide a letter of recommendation from a source that can substantiate the participant’s experience and skills
- Participants must be in good physical condition, with the capability to walk 4 miles a day
- Participants will not be discriminated against for medical conditions they might have if we determine that being on this project will not pose an immediate risk to their health
- Participants must sign waivers of liability for this project and for the field station before their participation in the project is finalized
- Participants must be willing to maintain long hours in the field, and return to complete data entry in the evenings.
- Sometimes we wait and are unsuccessful – this is the nature of the work. Participants must demonstrate patience
- Participants must be reliable – protocols must be followed
- Due to the nature of the work and weather constraints, participants MUST be willing to be flexible about their schedules
- Participants must exhibit a willingness to adjust your schedule to animal daily activity patterns. This can require waking up early, sometimes by 4 or 5 am, and going to bed early, 8 or 9 pm.
Program dates: June 2 – Aug 2, 2018
Start dates: June 3 or July 3
Minimum stay required: 4 weeks
Application deadline: April 15th, 2018
Program fee: $1800 for 4 weeks; $450 each additional week
This project will be led by Ishaan Raghunandan. An engineer turned conservation and documentary photographer that has worked in different countries and ecosystems with extensive experience at the field site where he has lead research projects and documented research.