Asia's Poaching Crisis
A biologist’s biggest challenge is studying a species whose survival depends on avoiding contact with humans. In jungles of the Terai Arc, camera traps are the only pairs of eyes that can record key scientific information about animals; ranging from abundance and behavior to preferred prey and human threats.
Meraj Anwar, Senior Project Officer of WWF-India, has conducted camera trap studies on tigers in the Terai Arc since 2010. In this Q&A, he talks about how camera trapping and scientific data collection contributes to conservation.
We use thermo-motion sensitive cameras that can detect changes in temperature and slight movements within a range of 40 feet. Even a leaf blowing in the wind will trigger its sensor. We get lots of pictures of leaves on windy days!
Camera traps lend us primary data from which we can infer a host of behavioral characteristics about a particular species. Because it records date and time, we can determine which time of the day an animal is active and how its behavior is affected by changing seasons. Images of predators carrying their prey are crucial in determining what they eat and when. We’ve also spotted injured animals and previously unknown species. We once observed a tigress carrying her cub in her mouth and moving from a location with human activity to a quieter place. This validated what we always knew but now we have evidence for it.
And, of course, camera traps help identify individual tigers from their stripe patterns, which is the foundation for population estimates of tigers.
We’ve just completed monitoring tigers in Ramnagar Forest Division (FD) that borders Corbett Tiger Reserve in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. Corbett is a well protected area and tigers in the reserve thrive without any major threat. But an animal isn’t aware of man-made borders and tigers often roam into neighboring forests that are similar to Corbett in every way but protection. We’re focusing our energies in determining the number of tigers and other key species in Ramnagar Forest Division with the hope that this evidence can be used to ensure better protection in the forest by the authorities.
The Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) covers a total area of 49,500km sq, spanning across three states in India and the low lying hills of Nepal.
A curious tiger is photographed by one of WWF-India's camera traps at 6:34am. The TAL is home to three flagship species; the tiger, the Asian elephant and the one-horned rhinocerous.
One of the camera traps photographs a rusty-spotted cat walking away with a freshly caught bandicoot in its mouth. In 2012, WWF India's camera trap photographed this species for the first time in the region. The small feline is endemic to India and Sri Lanka but had never been photographed so far north before.
Camera traps are an effective tool for establishing which species are present in an area - here a red fox is photographed for the first time in Ramnagar Forest Division.
The Terai Arc Landscape has thirteen protected areas within it, including Chitwan National Park; the first site to be accredited by Conservation Assured | Tiger Standards (CA|TS). In total, TAL covers nine protected areas in India and four in Nepal.
We spotted a red fox for the first time in Ramnagar Forest Division, but even more exciting was seeing the rusty-spotted cat there in 2012. The cat is endemic to India and Sri Lanka, and is common in southern India but has never been photographed by anyone in the north before. Our camera traps recorded images of the rusty-spotted cat for the first time in 2010 in eastern Terai, and a few times after that in central and western Terai.
Camera traps can monitor the forest in a way humans can’t. We have images of unidentified people moving with guns recorded on camera. We’ve passed on the photographs to the Forest Department who were able to use the evidence to conduct searches and arrest the suspect. Photos from camera traps were also used as evidence by the department in court proceedings.
That animals always see us first. I recall an incident two years ago when we deployed a camera trap behind a temple situated in a crucial corridor. When I routinely downloaded data three days after deployment, I saw an image of a tiger recorded just a few minutes after I left the spot. This meant that the tiger was watching and waiting for us to leave before it negotiated that stretch. No modern equipment can beat the eye of the tiger.