CCTV for animals? Introducing The Camera Trap
So what actually is a camera trap? It sounds like some kind of menacing, evil contraption; but the camera trap is in fact a key, upcoming piece of equipment used (mainly) to study animals in the wild without disturbing them. As animals pass in front of the lens, the sensor is triggered and a photo is taken. Motion-censoring and infrared technology are used to take photos throughout the day and night, whilst camouflage design and no visible LEDs mean that the camera goes un-noticed (even when I put mine it in my student kitchen to see who’s stealing my food… I know).
The resultant photo is often quite amusing, where animals tend to show slight curiosity in the camera, probably the result of olfactory cues, people tend to ignore it completely, poised completely naturally (or doing something embarrassing). Photos are printed with time stamps, allowing the user to identify exactly when the animal was seen in the area. Photos are stored on an internal memory card, then transferred by a cable, much like a digital camera, to a laptop or other device.
Already used by conservationists worldwide, camera trap technology is being developed by organisations such as the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to capture images of rare and undiscovered species in remote habitats. There are other uses too; my personal camera trap comes with a list that includes trail hunting, office surveying, and biological monitoring. This illustrates some of the more sneaky qualities of camera traps, where they make a useful tool for anti-poaching, and other trespassing, non-law-abiding activities.
Many outdoor stores sell camera traps, but the largest varieties can be found online, most ranging between £100 to £200. Better cameras have more features, (as per), such as faster detectability, shorter time between detection and photograph, and even time-lapse settings that can be used to watch events such as a plants flowering, for example.
BBC wildlife recently awarded their Camera-trap photo of the year 2012, with an extraordinary array of entries featuring portraits of leopards, rare birds, and even a spitting sloth bear. I set mine up in my university house and captured a strange man in my bedroom; thankfully he turned out to be not a burglar, but a student at a house-viewing I didn’t know about!
Whether you would like to see the fox that keeps ripping open your bin-bags, want to catch your untrustworthy housemate red-handed, or simply a photo of next door’s cat, I advise some research into camera traps; no doubt the technology is set to improve in the future.