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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.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Camera trap trashers and flashers

Camera trappers have three kinds of "bad trips".

Camera trap theft is by far the worst, because it transforms your normally lovable camera trapper into a brooding fiend obsessed with fantasies of revenge. Since most camera trappers don't consider therapy an option, they subject their families and friends to tiresome re-runs of imaginary Stephen King-like scenarios of revenge for months on end. In due course it all comes to pass, but they forever wear a small red button on their foreheads. If you push it, you'll hear the psychodrama all over again.

Vandalism affects our mental health too. Common poachers, thwarted by steel cable and locks, are known to have trashed camera traps when it dawned on them that they were photographed trying to steal them. This is also terribly disturbing for us guys who are just trying to have fun in the woods, and the psychological effects are the same as above.

Some camera trappers find a trashed camera easier to take when the perpetrator is a bear. Salvagable parts may also give some consolation. More often the bear's infraction is seen as a compelling reason to exact reverge when hunting season rolls around. Fortunately these corrective actions have not depressed the curiosity trait in the black bear's gene pool. Whether he takes revenge or not, the wise camera trapper is advised to chalk it up to experience, and in the future protect his camera with a bear guard.

A few camera trappers, clearly a minority, accept such a loss with resignation. They are a rare lot.

A camera trapping colleague in Colorado said losing his Furfindr (a predator sound decoy) was worth it just to get a picture of the cougar in the act.

My friend Brian Miller lost his camera trap when the intended subject, a beaver, cut and dismembered the tree to which the camera was attached. He never found a sign of it afterwards, but thought the beaver might have incorporated it into its lodge. I admired the equanimity with which he accepted this act of nature. It was as if the Great Spirit had sent him a message . . . "Not with my beavers you won't".

Then there are the camera flashers. Dr. Francie Cuthbert, a professor at the University of Minnesota recently took up camera trapping to monitor predator activity around piping plover nests in northern Michigan. Her bevy of grad students (nearly all women) has been studying this population for 25 years.

The students' skewed sex ratio may be part of the problem. This past summer more nude men entered the "closed areas" and sauntered past the cameras than plover predators.

Dr. Cuthbert observes, "The beach has always attracted a few nudists, and they don't think anyone is watching, but our cameras captured quite a record." (Appreciative of the decorum of this blog's virtuous readership, she has kindly spared us the images.)

She continues, "At the end of the summer someone discovered the hidden cameras and, in a rage, pulled out the memory cards and threw most of the cameras in the lake. We need some effective deterrents for the flashers, and the camera vandals, whoever they were."

Any suggestions out there on how to discourage these miscreants? Paint ball guns? Aldrich snares? Let's hear it.

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