Camera Trapping in Trees?

Amy Fitzmaurice, Oliver Wearn and Hayley Brant 20152015-04-28

Posted by: Amy Fitzmaurice

By Amy Fitzmaurice, Oliver Wearn and Hayley Brant 2015

Camera trapping has been a growing technology used in research and conservation, particularly for studying mammals and rare and elusive species. Cameras up until recently have only been used on land, placed near the ground to study terrestrial studies. When scientists and conservationists get an arboreal species, such as a binturong on their ground based cameras, it sparks questions like ‘Why did it come to the ground’ and ‘What behaviour and individuals can be found in the tree canopy’. For species like the binturong which are difficult to study using traditional methods transferring the technology of camera traps to the canopy could provide some exciting new insights. This could apply to many  groups of poorly-known species, including civets, squirrels, cats, primates and even birds.

© Hayley Brant, Oliver Wearn and Amy Fitzmaurice (2014)

Myself and two other researchers (Oliver Wearn and Hayley Brant) were interested in these arboreal species and camera trapping. So during 2014, several cameras were placed in trees at the Stability of Altered Forest Project (SAFE) at a Virgin Jungle Reserve, by fellow researcher and tree climber Hayley Brant. Who said “after I encountered a binturong in the canopy, whilst collecting mosquitoes from my research, we decided to place the cameras in a fruiting fig tree for a few weeks. We were amazed by the results, but unfortunately all the canopy photos had my temporary climbing lines into carry out my own research. These camera trap photos showed the potential of capturing the behaviour of arboreal species.” Oliver Wearn, a fellow researcher that helped in species identification spoke about the exciting behaviour of arboreal species that camera trapping in trees showed. He said “it was really exciting to see, even in just a short period of trapping, the sorts of new behavioural insights these methods could provide in the future. For example we captured on camera the strong competition between binturongs for figs, an ephemeral but clearly a very important resource for this threatened species.”

© Hayley Brant, Oliver Wearn and Amy Fitzmaurice (2014)

© Hayley Brant, Oliver Wearn and Amy Fitzmaurice (2014)

© Hayley Brant, Oliver Wearn and Amy Fitzmaurice (2014)

There are other organisations testing to see if camera trapping in trees could provide useful scientific data on arboreal species such as the Heart of Borneo Project and the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Foundation. Tim van Berkel from the Heart of the Borneo Project described “We have trialled setting a few cameras in the upper canopy and emergent trees. This is quite a challenge, accessing a tree and setting up a camera can take a full day. However, the results could be spectacular. We observed a squirrel and little known flying squirrels, as we as some skinks. Promising results for the two days the cameras were up in the trees.” Susan Cheyne from the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project said “Given that many animals in tropical rainforests are arboreal we are missing out on vital behavioural information and details of arboreal species by not having camera traps in the trees. It is certainly more challenging than placing camera traps on the ground but the rewards are worth the effort.”

To answer the question, Camera Trapping in Trees?, the answer is definitely yes, but there is a lot of research to be done to understand the best methodologies to provide useful data. With the potential for solar-powered and wireless camera traps in the future, as well as the use of drones to deploy cameras in the canopy things might be about to get even more exciting in the world of camera trapping.