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HOME > PAST ISSUE > March-April 2005 > Article Detail

FEATURE ARTICLE

Monitoring Elusive Mammals

Unattended cameras reveal secrets of some of the world's wildest places

James Sanderson, Mogens Trolle

Figure 1. Snapshots of Guatemalan wildlife...Click to Enlarge Image

Conservationists have a difficult time protecting creatures they can't see, even large, charismatic animals that would otherwise garner considerable attention. Some nocturnal predators, for example, and many of the animals that inhabit dense, remote jungles are seldom observed, so one has a hard time gauging their conservation status. Might a seemingly rare species already be extinct? Or might it be thriving? To answer such questions, field biologists are turning to a technique developed more than a century ago: "camera trapping," which involves the use of unattended cameras rigged to take pictures automatically when an animal wanders into the field of view. With such photos, conservationists can determine the relative abundance of various animals and can in some circumstances estimate absolute population density.


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