By Jeremy Hance
Remote camera traps, which take photos or video when a sensor is triggered, have been increasingly used to document rare and shy wildlife, but now conservationists are taking the technology one step further: detecting poachers. Already, camera traps set up for wildlife have captured images of park trespassers and poachers worldwide, but for the first time conservationists are setting camera traps with the specific goal of tracking illegal activity.
Dubbed the "Forest Eyes" project, scientists with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have installed and camouflaged 30 camera traps in two Russian far east protected areas: Lazovsky Nature Reserve and Zov Tigra National Park. The group hopes the camera traps will help to shed new light on trespassers in the parks, home to at most twenty Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica).
"The images from camera traps set up for humans will better inform us of any illegal activity in protected areas, so inspectors can be notified and patrols changed accordingly." explains ZSL tiger conservationist Linda Kerley in a press release. "We will be able to monitor the area more effectively and ensure we are doing all we can to try and change people’s attitudes and behaviors towards poaching."
Amur tigers, also known as Siberian tigers, are down to around 360 animals and listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. While the subspecies is imperiled by habitat loss, prey decline, low genetic diversity, and human-tiger conflict, poaching for traditional Chinese medicine remains the most pressing concern.
The small tiger population in the two parks have already suffered from past poaching. Scientists believe poachers may have killed as many as seven tigers five years ago, while in the last twelve months authorities have confiscated tiger parts in three different operations.
"We hope the awareness of extra camera traps targeting people who encroach on protected areas will deter poachers from trying to kill tigers and their prey animals," said another ZSL conservationist, Sarah Christie.
In 2010 Russia hosted a tiger summit with all 13 tiger range countries. The meeting ended with an ambitious pledged to double the number of wild tigers in the world by 2022. Amur tigers represent around 10 percent of the total wild population. Already three tiger subspecies have vanished forever. Photos.