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Tracking down camera traps

March 24, 2014

Tracking down camera traps

The black dots on Claudio Monteza’s well-worn laminated map don’t look far apart

The black dots on Claudio Monteza’s well-worn laminated map don’t look far apart. But when he hikes into the forest, armed with a GPS and an idea of which creeks, ascents and plateaus form the quickest route to the camera traps each dot represents, even an “easy” trip to fetch two devices can take six hours.

“It’s not easy to find people who want to do this work,” says Monteza, a biology graduate from the University of Panama, after a collection trip in Panama’s Soberanía National Park. In his fourth year on the camera trap project and first as field coordinator, Monteza is part of a crew of six researchers.

They have collected some 61,000 photographs (about ten per animal “trapped”) that reveal trends in vertebrate abundance from wildcats to rodents. The project, led by STRI’s Patrick Jansen, the coordinator of the vertebrate program of STRI’s CTFS-ForestGEO network, is part of the Tropical Ecology Assessment & Monitoring (TEAM) Network, which includes 17 sites around the globe. TEAM aims to be an early warning system for changes in tropical ecosystems.

TEAM’s “site” in Panama includes two contrasting, if geographically close, locations, which can help draw conclusions about conservation efforts. Soberanía has much higher poaching pressure. The other site is the well-patrolled Barro Colorado Nature Monument (BCNM), at the heart of the Panama Canal. The diversity of vertebrates appears greater in Soberanía but their species abundance is much higher within the monument.

“This allows us to try to recommend to environmental authorities how to improve mammal protection in the park,” said Monteza.

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