Revealing camera traps help with wildlife conservation

The camera trap—long a tool for hunters wanting to see what game inhabits anarea and for amateur photographers looking for a unique photo—is coming into its own as a conservation tool. 

The automated digital camera that snaps a picture whenever an animal triggers an infrared sensor has been credited with documenting an Amur leopard in China for the first time in 62 years. The tool has also helped prove that the world’s rarest rhino, the Javan, is breeding, by photographing a female with her calf. And it recorded the first wolverine in California since 1922. These are just a few of the discoveries made using the cameras. 

In addition, the cameras have been behind the discovery of several new species, including the Annamite striped rabbit in Southeast Asia. 

If you're not a wildlife researcher, maybe these discoveries don't seem like noteworthy events on a non-scientific level. I’m not a scientist, but I find that these discoveries are pretty cool, because they continue to show us that Mother Nature is still full of surprises. It also keeps the human race humble and in awe; proving once again we are not the masters of everything. 

Indeed, camera traps are opening the door to a new world of wildlife research and conservation, enabling scientists to collect photographic evidence of rarely seen and endangered species, with little expense, relative ease and minimal disturbance to wildlife. Those simple photos can be used to document wildlife presence, abundance and population changes. And when enough photos are snapped, the data can help provide more accurate baseline data on populations in an area, where only estimates were possible before. 

And perhaps equally important, camera trap photos can help raise conservation awareness to protect those unspoiled areas the candid critters call home. 

—Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog! 

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