Monday, January 18, 2016

Field Update: Camera Traps in Gabon

Rolland and Ivonne surverying their TRS in Gabon

I'm really happy to announce we are going to try to do a monthly feature on updates from the field (as long as we have good enough internet to do it!)

Our first field update is from Ivonne Kienast from the Batéké Plateau in Gabon where she and Bo Larson are working as temporary research site (TRS) managers for the MPI-EVA Pan African Programme: The Cultured Chimpanzee's collaborative research site with the Aspinall Foundation and l'Agence Nationale Des Parcs Nationaux Du Gabon.

Ivonne writes:
You know it is going to be a specially exciting day. You can feel the tickling in your fingers, the impatience makes you walk faster, and you just want to arrive to the spots you know so well. It's camera trap day ! Meaning... that you are coming back to camp with SD cards full of amazing footage. You know you will have videos of elephants, duikers, leopards, red river hogs, hopefully pangolins, aardvaarks and golden cats. You cross your fingers for a lion video and of course and number 1 in the charts: Chimps ! You are excited to find out if the female with her fluffy baby you saw the other day in the forest will have passed by one of the cameras, or if you are going to see again on a video those 3 amazing huge males sitting in front of the camera studying it carefully. Or maybe the young male you called Tango pushing the camera and throwing a stick at it.
C&S citizen scientists you can look forward to the video this camera caught ;)
 Like every month you arrive excited to the camera. And you know something went wrong, because the camera is not there. It is lying on the ground, ripped in peaces, smashed and crashed. You could give it so many definitions ! And it is also how you feel in that moment. You look at the pieces, shaking your head, feeling frustrated. Resigned you check if you can save the SD card. You think: “Even if you loose the device, please don't loose the data.” Then you start searching for all the pieces of the plastic box, of the camera and all components which were used for the setup. In 13 months it have been 11 cameras, the last 8 ones in the last 3 months ! Elephants are reacting extremely aggressively towards the cameras. You cannot blame them. It's their forest. Your cameras scare them, or they just might have a bad day and decide to make your work a bit more difficult. As you always look at the bright side of life :P, you think: “Ok, better the cameras and not us. Or the cameras AND us”.

Well, thanks to our partner and host PPG (Projet Protection des Gorilles – The Aspinall Foundation), we found a perfect solution. PPG has been working with camera traps for gorilla monitoring for a while, and because gorillas are very touchy and curious apes, they needed to protect their cameras very well. So they designed a metallic box, which is fixed to the trees with wire, and the camera is just placed into this box. The setup is pretty stable. But PPG was having big problems with the humidity, and every month they were taking out cameras which were not working properly.
We did not have problems with the humidity, as our cameras are protected by a plastic box, covered with cling film, and having silica gel in the interior to absorbe humidity. PPG was clever ;). They decided to put their cameras in plastic boxes, covered with cling film, silica gel in the interior and all together in the metallic box. What a great idea ! So, we decided to do the same. We got 15 custom made metallic boxes and we have all our hopes on them. Unification of two different systems used at one site will allow us to get lots of amazing videos without loosing our cameras. For elephants it won't be impossible, but more difficult to destroy the new setup. We hope that out of 10 we might save 9. And we have high chances this will work ! Thanks PPG for this great idea.  


  1. This is super Amazing, courage and good work Ivonne, Roland and Bo
    A big Hug from I and my team (Emmanuel_Rubi_Tele)

  2. I rather enjoy watching animals play with the cameras, but now I can sympathize with the field team, as well. :-) Thanks for this cool field update! Looking forward to more!