Camera trap is an age-old technique crucial in identifying new and critical wildlife areas outside the limits of pre-existing Protected Areas network, is now being extensively implemented by Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT) to provide more landspace to earth’s most royal animal, the Tiger.
Photo by Wildlife Conservation Trust
India, one of seventeen megadiverse countries, embodies 3 out of 34 major biodiversity hotspots in the world that further incorporates 726 Protected Areas (PAs) within its geographical limits. These PAs include national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, community reserves and conservation reserves that collectively shelter millions of varied species of flora and fauna. In the year 2015, Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT) partnered with H.T. Parekh Foundation (HTPF) to aid a project specifically designed at establishing a baseline for tiger density at Satpura Tiger Reserve (TR), by confirming the species population numbers in the region through the process of camera trapping.
Tiger (Panthera tigris) caught on cam-trap during a WCT project. Source: WCT
Located in the Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh (MP), the Satpura TR is spread over an area of 2133.30 km 2 . According to a report titled ‘Status of Tigers Co-Predators and Prey In India, 2014’ published by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), ‘it [Satpura TR] supports a large number of ethno-medicinal flora and faunal diversity. There are 48 species of mammals, 258 species of avian fauna and 31 species of reptiles.’ flourishing within this rich biodiversity. The rugged landscape forms the catchment area of the Narmada River, making it a vital landscape for conservation from the perspective of water security in the region.
The body heat of a passing animal triggers the infrared sensors in the camera, thus producing bright and sharp images even during the night. Source: WCT
An important tiger conservation corridor, it often becomes necessary to identify the trends in tiger population, their territories, movement rates, dispersal and critical areas. Moreover, the increasing pressure of human population and habitat loss due to encroachment makes human- animal conflicts all the more inevitable, thus making it important to be aware of the factors influencing the forced existence of the wild cats in human-dominated landscapes.The free- ranging animals, like tigers, leopards, etc require large spaces to roam and hunt for food while most of the protected areas prove to be too small to harbour ecologically, demographically and genetically viable tiger populations over a long period of time. These estimates of densities and estimated population size provides a yardstick for measuring the success of conservation interventions in the given landscape.
WCT team members testing the camera traps in the field. Source: WCT
After subjecting a total area of 1740 km 2 to data sampling and deploying 518 camera traps the results were both welcoming and overwhelming. A total of 20 adult tigers were recorded through the exercise, including 11 males and 9 females. Additionally, six cubs/sub-adults were also photo-captured during the course of the project. The information thus gathered was documented and forwarded to the Madhya Pradesh forest department for further assessment required to define PA area limits.
Various animals caught on camera trap : Top Left- Leopard ( Panthera pardus); Top Right- Four-horned antelope (Tetracerus quadricornis); Below (L to R) – Dhole (Cuon alpinus), Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), Pangolin (Pholidota)
Considering the importance of camera trapping in estimating the animal distribution, population and in defining of PA area limits, WCT went ahead to provide workshops and hands-on session to the foresters and forest guards of Satpura TR in understanding the technical know-how of handling camera-traps. They were educated and trained in the technique, were taught about maintaining photographic databases, while being educated on its importance to the cause.