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

Friday, August 29, 2008

The imagined threats of camera traps

Now that the dust has settled from Mr Benson's recent article on camera trap Papparazzi, I feel duty bound to set the record straight about misleading statements that aroused a few to mount their high horses.

First, the author's contention that "massive deployment" of camera traps "may be hurting the animals they are used to study".

If this wasn't an otherwise serious article I'd swear the author was pulling our legs. I mean . . . "Massive deployment?" Like the invasion of Normandy?

This and other statements alarmed a few gullible readers, but most of the commenters to the article didn't buy it. This blog received over 40,000 hits resulting from the article, and most readers were apparently indifferent.

Here's my suggestion to the author and other suspicious readers. The next time you fly across country look down and visualize the spacing of all those deployed camera traps. If you still see "massive deployment" take Benson's quoted figure of 300,000 and try calculating the number of cameras per acre of public and private land.

Now, how do you think that figure compares with the density of automobiles, snow mobiles, and ATVs out there? Shall we compare their impact on wildlife?

The author got it into his head that cameras "can" hurt wildlife.

But then I thought, you're getting old, codger, and the English language is changing.

So I looked up "hurt" in Webster's.

"Hurt: vt (ME hurten): to inflict with physical pain; WOUND; to do substantial or material harm to: DAMAGE; to cause pain or anguish to: OFFEND; to be detrimental to: HAMPER syn. see INJURE."

Yes, he's stretching it quite a bit.

Why? I did my best on the phone to share my experiences with him. You can read many moods from camera trap images -- indifference, distraction, curiosity, and occasionally surprise. Perhaps even rare cases of aggression, though I doubt it.

He didn't want to be confused with facts, and concluded that "If such provocation were consistent and widespread—and the increasing popularity of camera traps means that it is rapidly becoming both—it could lead endangered animals to waste energy or avoid fruitful areas for foraging or hunting."

A little knowledge is dangerous, but he was cautious enough, or perhaps uncertain enough to say it "could" happen.

The truth of the matter is this. If camera traps were so damn disturbing to wildlife, they wouldn't take so damn many pictures of wildlife.

(I'm not through yet. In future posts I will discuss some concepts of animal psychology and behavior as they apply to camera trapping.)


Anonymous said...

I thought that article was unscientific and alarmist (and probably written by someone who has spent little time in the woods). The only good thing about was that I found this blog.

Beverly said...

ROFL…what a GREAT comment there, above me.

I have been waiting for your (very patient) reply to the kook. Dang, and here I assumed the author was a female, even though I followed links and read all the associated materials. Lordy… I’m guessing this guy is pals with your neighbors who insist leaving a sardine out in the woods is ‘baiting wildlife’ or with my neighbors who insist Obama’s middle name is cause for suspision… AND…with that certain candidate who thinks that while that Obama is too young and inexperienced, but that a soccer mom, pagent queen, small-town mayor and first term governor from Alaska (who thinks more drilling is a good idea (?!!) IS a good choice for high-level government?

But I digress.

And I have a serious question. I like what you do, you know that. In fact…I’d give my eyeteeth for one of those motion-detection cameras! But, why is it some birder/naturalists s I follow make comments like “I refuse to use flash on unsuspecting crepuscular animals.” ?

Like you, I cannot believe it is too big a deal when they keep coming forward to sniff, lick or dismantle said flashing unit…so what is the big deal, anyway? I’d like to hear from an authority. What, if anything…does a motion-detection-triggered flash DO to some animal probalby six feet away? What about two feet away?

Thanks again for your work, Chris………….

Hugh Griffith said...

"The truth of the matter is this. If camera traps were so damn disturbing to wildlife, they wouldn't take so damn many pictures of wildlife."

Excellent point.

As I have mentioned several times on my blog, a great number of the hits I get are from people who "want to get rid of" some sort of wildlife. (There have even been individuals--three of them--who wanted to get rid of Mountain Beavers!) Now I have an answer. Set up a camera trap.

I'm putting one up next to my compost bin. So long, Rattus.

Anonymous said...

i got my laugh for the night, thanks

Anonymous said...

G'day Chris, Please be gentle with cousin Benson ....
I read that you are about to strangle him passionately,
Spring greetings from down-under.

I like Wildlife said...

In the parks near me (I live in the midwest), a good portion of the people visitng are there to do things that are illegal. Poaching, dumping cats, allowing dogs to run off leads, illegal campfires, littering, and unlawful plant and animal collecting are common activities. At least the author did aknowledge that camera traps have some merit in detecting such activities. I would actually argue that our parks and conservation lands are poorly monitored, rather than obtrusivly so.

Beverly said...

I couldn’t agree more, ilike…I wish we could catch more people like this one (http://rozewolf.wordpress.com/2008/06/06/horrid-horrid-week/) who actually blogs about taking her pet German Shepherd/wolf hybrid, which had apparently bitten too many people and killed too many cats, up to the nearby woods where it was released and left. She felt this was better than death? Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr… it most likely IS death! I really do wish she’d get busted and fined for cruelty to animals, at the very, very least!

Chris has blogged about people who have caught folks on camera-traps, splitting up the goodies they just stole from the trapper’s near-by home. Too cool!

I’m still curious to find out HOW these traps ‘hurt’ animals. I’ve experienced the flash of a camera at too close a range…and while uncomfortable, I was not harmed. I wonder if this is a serious issue for the critters? I notice MOST of them are ‘caught’ six feet or more from the camera anyway…it is their curiosity that brings them in closer to the flashing machine. How can this be a problem?

Camera Trap Codger said...

Just back from picking up cams in Sierra county (35 degrees F last night) , and Rich just sent a pile of stuff from "the Mountain" -- so have a bunch of new material to post. Be patent cuz it is going to take some time. Thanks to all for your comments. As per Hugh's suggestion, hope you are all now controlling nuisance wildlife with the secret weapon-- camera traps! Bunny rabbits and woodchucks in the garden-- look out! You are about to be zapped, confused, and disoriented.

Anonymous said...

I can guarantee you from my experiences with black bears, they are extremely curious about our camera traps (we figured out they were attracted to the smell of the camouflage duct tape we were using, and switched to painting our bear boxes), but they never seem harassed or disturbed.
Chewing on the camera traps? Yes.
Scared of them? Not a chance. (Not with how often they return!)

Anonymous said...

Again a fair post. Thank your achates

MB Nature Nook said...


As a naturalist and wildife photographer,camera traps are a good way to scout when I can't spend more time in the woods. Personally, I' kinda sick of folks trying to tell everyone else what to do, especially when they are morbidly misinformed. There is so much misinformation out about wildlife due to idiots who read something or see it on TV and get a tiny bit of knowledge and automatically think they are experts. You know the ones I mean...They takes things so seriously and are the first to assume some sort of conspiracy. The fact is, I think it is amazing that many people are so interested in learning about wildife. Now, if they are using the cameras, baiting, and then coming out and hunting over bait, I say prosecute the he** out of 'em. But setting up camera traps to learn what's in your back yard is hopefully a step toward further education, appreciation, conservation, and protection of our wild lands, parks, and their inhabitants...