Camera Trapping on Pridelands

Resident Ecologist Megan Loftie Eaton shares her findings

Over the past three months, Pridelands, the WildArk Conservancy in South Africa, has been home to some little spies (i.e. camera traps!). We’ve been deploying two Wildgame Innovations camera traps in various locations throughout Pridelands to get a better understanding of the mammal life on the property.

If you enjoy wildlife documentaries or scientific articles, you’ve probably seen photos or video taken by “camera traps.” Remote cameras have been used for years by scientists studying or documenting wildlife numbers and behaviour in sometimes difficult or inaccessible terrain. A camera trap is just like an ordinary digital camera except that it does not have a button to press to take a photo, it is triggered by movement or heat from animals.

Camera-trapping has proved to be a very effective way of finding out which elusive and, especially, nocturnal animals are in an area. It’s also an effective way to find out how animals are utilising an area. So, for Pridelands, it helps us gain a better idea of animal densities across the landscape and which areas are favoured by which animals and why. We are also using the camera traps to record the mammal diversity on Pridelands.

There is one Animal Demography Unit project for which camera traps play an absolutely crucial role and this is MammalMAP.

MammalMAP is the Atlas of African Mammals. The aim of MammalMAP is to update the distribution records for all of Africa’s wild mammals — the small ones, the big ones, the dry ones and the wet ones.

“Surely we know the distributions of Africa’s mammals? These are flagships species for tourism in Africa.” Sadly, the answer is “no” —  the distributions are changing due to habitat destruction and climate change. Developing these 21st century distribution maps is filling a critical gap in conservation needs.

It’s very exciting to see all the leopard activity on Pridelands. Clearly there is enough prey for them in this area. The leopard density might change once lions start moving in, but we hope that the leopards will stick around. We’ve managed to get a leopard on the camera traps with every retrieval, which is really cool!
Other interesting/exciting mammals that have been caught on camera were: African Civet (Civettictis civetta), Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta), Dwarf Mongoose (Helogale parvula), Slender Mongoose (Galerella sanguinea).

A few tips on setting up camera traps:

  • It is very important to pick the right site for your camera trap. It helps to be quite sure that an animal will pass by the camera at some stage
  • Well-used game paths, hiking trails, quiet jeep tracks, dry watercourses and the bottom of ravines are all good places to set up your camera traps
  • For close shots, like on game paths, at watering holes or food sources set the camera up at no higher than waist height (if you are focusing on smaller animals it is better to set the camera up at a lower position)
  • If you are in an area where elephants, hyenas or large predators occur, make sure that your hands are free from any unusual or attractive odours e.g. food, perfumes etc. as this might tempt these animals to inspect the source of the odour — and they may just have a pull or a bite at the camera trap to see if its to their liking
  • Another important factor to keep in mind is the direction of the rising and setting sun. Occasionally when a subject triggers the camera when it is pointed towards the sun as the sun is rising or setting (typically heavy activity hours) this can lead to overexposed or ‘washed-out’ pictures

Take a look at some of the best images from the various camera traps set up on Pridelands over the past few months.

Buffalo herd on their way to water; Female impala taking a closer look.

Giraffe legs stroll past; Impala herd grazing nearby.

Vervet monkey on their afternoon patrol; Tail flicking zebra on its way to water.

Family of guinea fowl smile for the camera; Civet on night patrol.

Wildebeest sniffing the camera; Leopard on morning patrol.

Baboon portait; Leopard out and about bright and early.

Warthog; Hyena on night watch.

More on Pridelands? Check this update by WildArk Co-Founder Sophie Hutchinson on The First Three Months