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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Camera Trap Protection

"Be advised, Captain Kirk that nowhere in the galaxy are your camera traps safe from tampering." Spock

A new publication on camera trap protection is always of interest because camera traps are never safe from wildlife and people. This paper in the Journal of Wildlife Management touts the use of a plate steel security box.

The authors, who study wildlife traffic in flood underpasses along a busy stretch of state route 58 in the Mohave desert, had the wisdom to contract a local welder to "armor" their 7 Cuddeback Digital Scouting cameras. The welder was not only paid for his services, but was made a coauther, which is nice to see.

The security box was made of 2 mm steel plates with arc welded joints. A sliding front door with windows for the lens, flash and sensor apertures gives access to the camera, and can be padlocked. I am certain that our state highway department, Caltrans would not approve the use of anchor bolts to fasten the cameras to the culvert walls. So epoxy was used to glue rotating camera mounts on the underpass walls. The cost of materials and labor was $90.

Each camera was deployed with a brief note in Spanish and English explaining the purpose and the ownership of the camera.

The cameras took 107 photographs over a period of 170 days, which by my calculations is 0.14 photos per day or 1 photo every 7 days. The culverts were not a hot area for animal traffic. The wildlife "catch" was black-tailed jackrabbits, desert cottontails, desert woodrats, domestic dogs and a domestic cat. The cameras also photographed 4 people in the culverts, and no traps were damaged, moved or apparently touched over the 6 month period.

With the obvious exception of people, none of these species is a threat to cameras, but I suspect this security box would be an excellent deterrent to bears. A black bear could probably break the wall mount, but it would have to use bolt cutters to cut the padlock.

Most people are not interested in exploring highway culverts, but this changes when nature is calling. A culvert is about the only place in the desert that affords potty privacy. Hitchhikers and hobos also appreciate culverts for shade. The researchers found ample evidence of these human activities. In this situation, the written notice probably had the desired effect.

The online hunting and camera trapping forums, such a Pixcontroller and Real Deal Hunting Chat are good places to learn about camera trap theft, reactions to it, and the ingenuity used to counteract it.

It's my impression that poachers and trespassers pose the greatest threat, because they realize the camera has all the evidence needed for conviction. A chainsaw, however, can even defeat the Python lock. (Just cut the tree down.)

It would be interesting to conduct an experiment to find the most effective deterrent to camera trap thieves. But who's going to do it? It's a lot more fun getting pictures of wildlife.


Fiehler, C.M., B.L. Cypher, S. Bremner-Harrison, and D. Pounds. 2007. A theft-resistent adjustable security box for digital cameras. Journal of Wildlife management, 71(6):2077-2080

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oddball suggestion--many moons ago I took a vendor class for nuclear soils density testing. In order to be certified to handle a low grade radiation source we attended training and took a short test.

The instructor said that he had to travel around the country training and some construction sites where he had to train were in some pretty rough neighborhoods.

One requirement of transporting the nuclear equipment was placing a placard in the vehicle window warning the public about radiation exposure. He swore that no matter how ugly the neighborhood was his vehicle never got broken into.