Caught on camera
By Danielle Sendou Rinngit
Camera trapping technology has been a vital tool for conservationists on their path to mapping elusive wildlife and their abundance as well as studying their behavioral and activity patterns.
On June 10th, Hon delivered a talk ‘Caught on Camera! Camera Trapping Activities in Sarawak’ at Swinburne University of Technology, Sarawak Campus, addressing the challenges and rewards of catching animals on film.
What can we get from camera trapping
In an effort to identify and gazette one million hectares as totally protected areas (TPAs) by 2020, Hon said that he hopes to present the information to the government or relevant agencies so that more can be done in the affected areas.
According to WWF website, the TPAs consisted of 20 national parks, four wildlife sanctuaries and five nature reserves in Sarawak. As of now, it has been reported that the state has achieved 0.85 million hectares of TPAs.
Presenting data that animals and endangered species are living within an area can help in pushing for better protection for that wildlife.
“So, this is why these data is important, we need to be able to support or justify why this area is important,” said Hon, WWF-Malaysia Sarawak programme leader.
Hon showed two years worth of work that he and the staff of WWF Sarawak had managed to captured throughout his camera trapping activity.
Why do it?
Camera trapping has been helping Hon and the staff from WWF Sarawak gain quantifiable data and information, vital for studying the behaviour, activity pattern and abundance and the habitats of wildlife animals.
“So, in short, camera traps, when you use them, no animals are captured. You do not handle animals, so you do not injure them. That’s the wonder of them,” said Hon.
With camera trapping, Hon said that he managed to get shots of elusive animals such as the Borneo bay cat, said to be one of the least understood cat species out there.
“There is only a handful of records out there. But ever since people have been using camera traps, more and more records have emerged,” he said.
As the shots from camera traps have date and time embedded in them, Hon added that they help in temporal partitioning (the process by which different species use the environment differently in a way that helps them to coexist) to tell whether the animals are mostly nocturnal, diurnal or have no specific pattern.
“Another thing is, you do not have to be there. So, as I am speaking to you all right now, the cameras are doing the work,” he added.
While researchers before had to spend weeks, months or even years in the forest, just to get a glimpse of wildlife, this simple yet effective tool has helped in reducing time collecting data as you can leave the camera traps for a few weeks to months or even a year and then come back to see the shots.
“Another great thing about it this is that, it can be shared with a lot of people and they can actually review. In the past, whatever I recorded, I was the only who can verify whether it is true or not. So, now I can actually share the data and everyone can see,” said Hon.
While camera traps are a useful invention that helps naturalist and conservationists in their work, the activity is not without its challenges.
According to Hon, cameras have been broken either by animals or by passers by who are curious about the tool.
There have been several instances when animals themselves have blocked the view of the camera or even knocked it over, preventing a clear shot of any passing animals.
The talk was a joint collaboration by Malaysian Nature Society Kuching Branch, WWF-Malaysia and Swinburne University of Technology.
Sarawak, being part of Borneo island is home to about 185 species of mammals, 520 species of birds, 166 species of snakes, 104 species of lizards and 11 species of amphibians, making it crucial to protect and preserve the biodiversity since most of the species are endemic to Sarawak.