The utility of camera trapsCamera traps are invaluable, non-invasive and cost effective tools that provide wildlife researchers with photographic data that can be used to estimate density and abundance of a specific species, proof of presence of a species in an area and trends in population change due to anthropogenic pressures, among other data. Such data derived from the systematic and scientific use of camera traps help conservationists in taking management and policy decisions.
In India, camera traps are well known as the tools used for the science based All India Tiger Estimation Exercise conducted by NTCA/WII with support from WWF and other NGOs. What is not so well known though is that camera traps are also very good at offering insights into the behaviour of wild animals and revealing new distribution records for a species.
WWF-India’s use of camera traps across IndiaOver the past few years, WWF-India in partnership with NTCA and different state forest departments has been deploying camera traps across India towards estimating tiger numbers, estimating the presence of specific species, and understanding human-wildlife conflict.
These camera traps used in varied and diverse habitats, from the forbidding heights of Kargil to the dense forests of Western Ghats, have revealed hitherto seldom seen behaviour and activity of wild animals.
Leopard-Hyena fightFor the past one and half years, WWF-India has been monitoring cattle kills by large carnivores in the critical Kanha Pench corridor forests of Central India using camera traps as part of a project to provide interim relief to local communities to reduce retaliatory poisoning of tigers and leopards.
These camera traps captured a rarely seen and perhaps never before photographed scene in India – a hyena (Hyaena hyaena) and a leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) fighting over a cattle kill, probably made by a tiger. The photograph provides an insight into the complex ecological interactions between carnivores and shows how scavengers utilize a kill made by a large carnivore, signifying the intricate food chain.
Changeable Hawk-Eagle (Dark morph)Moving eastwards, camera traps setup near a waterhole in the Sunderbans forests captured an uncommon dark morph variant of the Changeable Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus cirrhatus). While the eagle is easily seen across India’s forests the dark morph has very scarce sightings.
Fishing cat with preyA camera trap in the Kaziranga National Park in Assam captured one night a fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) coming back from a successful hunt with its favourite prey - a fish. The fishing cat, as their name suggests, are skilled swimmers and excellent at catching fish and this capture aptly confirms their nocturnal hunting abilities.
Clouded leopardElsewhere in Assam, camera traps photographed one of the lesser-known members of the cat family, the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) in Manas National Park. The camera traps documented a good density of these cats from this park, a density exceeding that of the tigers in Manas!
Eurasian magpiesThe far north of India, Kargil to be more precise, is snow leopard country. This mysterious denizen of the heights sometimes comes down during the lean winter months from his high altitude haunts to hunt livestock. The kill, after the snow leopard has had its fill and left, attracts a host of scavengers like the Eurasian magpies (Pica pica). This capture from Kargil shows a flock of these magpies congregating at the site of the kill (not visible in photo) to feed on the carcass demonstrating the complex food web that interlinks large carnivores and birds in such high altitude areas where food sources can be scarce during winters.
Asiatic black bearThe Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary located in Darjeeling is home to a sizable population of the Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus). The aim of the camera trapping exercise here was to study the distribution patterns of the Asiatic black bear and analyse its habitat as well as determine the scale and tendency of human-bear conflict. The distribution patterns of the bears determined from the camera trap captures would help in reducing human-bear conflict in the area by undertaking plantation of more fruiting trees in areas known to be frequented by these bears, thereby reducing chances of them venturing out of the sanctuary into human areas in search of food. This capture shows a Asiatic black bear and her cub foraging for food inside the Sanctuary indicating that healthy breeding is taking place in the Sanctuary.
Rusty-spotted catThe camera trapping exercise in the forests of Pilibhit revealed a completely new distribution record for the rusty spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus) in the Terai Arc landscape. The previously known distribution record for this cat is from the states of south and central India and parts of western India. In this case, the camera traps discovered a hitherto unknown distribution record for the smallest wild cat.
Hyena killThis camera trap shows a Hyena scavenging a chital, probably a kill made by a larger carnivore. Captured in the Sathyamangalam forests of Tamil Nadu, an area proposed to be declared a tiger reserve, this photo is indicative of the good density of hyenas found in this region. Overall, one of the best populations of hyena in India is found in this region, a crucial connecting link between the Eastern and Western Ghats.
As these captures amply demonstrate camera traps can, apart from generating baseline data about presence and abundance of wildlife, also provide valuable insights to wildlife researchers about the behaviour of wild animals and aid conservationists in implementing effective conservation management plans.
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