Monday, August 27, 2018

What can we learn about chimpanzee groups from camera trap videos?

Hey Chimp&See enthusiasts! We recently published a paper about estimating chimpanzee group characteristics using camera traps, and I would like to take the opportunity to share our findings with you and give a little information about what these results mean for the work we do on Chimp&See. 
Our paper, entitled “An assessment of the efficacy of camera traps for studying demographic composition and variation in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)”, was recently published in the American Journal of Primatology.

Photo credit: MPI-EVA

Have you ever wished there were a way to know whether the camera traps actually record everything that’s going on when chimpanzees are present? Have you sometimes wondered whether more chimpanzees are just off camera nearby? Have you noticed how some individuals rarely seem to appear on camera, but others pop up in loads of different clips?

In this study, we were able to compare who appeared on camera to who was actually present, and to determine whether the camera traps were a good way to identify all chimpanzees and measure seasonal variation in party size. We looked at this by comparing two data sets from the same chimpanzees at Taї National Park, Côte d’Ivoire, recorded at the same time. One data set came from camera trap videos while the other came from direct observational data collected by researchers (which we know to be a good reflection of which chimpanzees were actually present and how big the parties actually were). By comparing the data we got from both sources, we found a few key things…

1)    We missed a lot of individuals in the camera trap videos!
If we considered the sum of all individuals recorded together in a given camera trap event, we missed about half of the party on average. So when we view clips on Chimp&See (especially individual 15-second clips), it’s good to always be aware that we’re often glimpsing through a small window into a bigger, more complex scene that’s unfolding out of view. This is a good reminder not to assume too much as we watch chimpanzee clips.

2)    Despite missing some information, we’re still getting really cool and useful data!
Chimpanzee party sizes tend to vary seasonally, based on factors like resource availability and the presence of estrous females. In this study, we found a similar pattern of seasonal variation in party size in both the camera trap and observational data, despite the fact that camera traps often missed some members of the parties. This highlights how useful the camera trap data can be despite incomplete information, and lets us know that the Chimp&See data also offer the potential to look at party size variation in all sorts of ways. So in case you’re wondering, all that chimpanzee counting you’ve done is still extremely useful!

3)    Those chimpanzee IDs are so valuable!
We also looked at whether all individuals appeared on camera eventually, and whether events like immigrations, emigrations, births, and deaths could be detected in the camera trap data. We found that all chimpanzees except a newborn infant born near the end of the study appeared on camera, and that deaths and an emigration were detected via disappearance from the camera trap data. We could accurately figure out the chimpanzee community’s composition based on the camera trap data, too. This information all relied on the chimpanzee IDs assigned in the videos (in this case, by researchers who were directly familiar with the chimpanzees, having studied them). On Chimp&See, the only way to obtain this very valuable information is via the agreed-upon chimpanzee IDs that citizen scientists like you help provide. This information is extremely valuable to the project, and the only way we can answer some critical questions about the chimpanzees you see on video—a HUGE thanks to you! 

Overall, this study gives us some insight into how valuable camera trap data are for understanding chimpanzee communities, as well as shedding light on the ways in which we should be careful when considering what we can get from the videos. We’re so grateful for all the ways you’ve contributed to Chimp&See and can’t wait to share more results with you in the future! Keep up the great work!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

New paper: An assessment of the efficacy of camera traps for studying demographic composition and variation in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)

New seminal paper from the PanAf's Maureen McCarthy and colleagues at the Tai Chimpanzee Project
An assessment of the efficacy of camera traps for studying demographic composition and variation in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)
Demographic factors can strongly influence patterns of behavioral variation in animal societies. Traditionally, these factors are measured using longitudinal observation of habituated social groups, particularly in social animals like primates. Alternatively, noninvasive biomonitoring methods such as camera trapping can allow researchers to assess species occupancy, estimate population abundance, and study rare behaviors. However, measures of fine‐scale demographic variation, such as those related to age and sex structure or subgrouping patterns, pose a greater challenge. Here, we compare demographic data collected from a community of habituated chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) in the Taï Forest using two methods: camera trap videos and observational data from long‐term records. By matching data on party size, seasonal variation in party size, measures of demographic composition, and changes over the study period from both sources, we compared the accuracy of camera trap records and long‐term data to assess whether camera trap data could be used to assess such variables in populations of unhabituated chimpanzees. When compared to observational data, camera trap data tended to underestimate measures of party size, but revealed similar patterns of seasonal variation as well as similar community demographic composition (age/sex proportions) and dynamics (particularly emigration and deaths) during the study period. Our findings highlight the potential and limitations of camera trap surveys for estimating fine‐scale demographic composition and variation in primates. Continuing development of field and statistical methods will further improve the usability of camera traps for demographic studies.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Chimp&See on German TV mdr

A big Dankeschoen to German TV station MDR - Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk who did a segment on Chimp&See this week!
Features some really nice video from and the chimp matching tutorial our mod Kristeena made!
You can check out the video here:

Don't forget to tag all your favourite videos with #dailyzoo and check out the chimp matching tutorial here if you need a refresher:

Friday, August 3, 2018

Guest Post: The Elephants Lake Project 🐘

As a moderator with Chimpansee, and back to my blog posts about elephants, here´s something that I would love to share with you and that I´m sure you are going to like:

as you already know, we see a lot of African forest elephants at Chimpandsee...such beautiful videos aroused your interest about elephants and we opened a special discussion board about these majestic animals. So elephants are not only part of my daily routine, but I also use some of my spare time to have my nose buried in elephant projects. And this took me to an amazing untiring international organization called “Vier Pfoten” (Four Paws), entirely devoted to animal welfare, and with offices in many countries all over the globe. I would love to take this Chimpandsee guest post to discuss some of the cool conservation work these guys are doing.

This story starts some years ago as a “wonderful dream” of some very brave animal welfare fighters from Vier Pfoten, and it goes like this:

as you all know, elephants have been used as working machines for ages in Asia, with all the suffering that this involves: calves separated from their moms, chained and brutally trained to obey human commands, exhausting working schedules, and elephants psychologically and physically marked for life. The use of hooks to make them obey has been (still is) very much appreciated by the oozies (oozie is the term for Mahout used in Myanmar) working in direct contact with elephants. 

Photo: Ingo Schmidinger. Oozies with their elephants. 
© FOUR PAWS / Jasmine Duthie. Use of hooks. 
But fortunately, these days are over for the timber industry elephants in Myanmar.

Due to new regulations, the use of elephants for working purposes has been banned by law in Myanmar. This means that most of the timber logging elephants in Myanmar (sadly, still 10% of the working elephant population will still be working) that “belong” to the government are now “retired” and need a safe place to finally live in so much deserved peace.

Here´s where Vier Pfoten International comes into play, with the development of an ambitious project coordinated by Ingo Schmidinger ❤, and where I myself have had the tremendous honor to cooperate with; my passion for elephants is not a secret, and such a great news gave me hope again.

© FOUR PAWS / Jasmine Duthie. Fieldwork, VP Team. 
Photo: Yin Min. Fieldwork, Ingo Schmidinger 

So, VP, this international animal welfare organization, has designed a long-term project called Elephants Lake, in order to provide elephants with the appropriate conditions to ensure their welfare…forever. This project consists of 17.000 hectares of land in the Bago Province of Myanmar. According to some research on habitat size and population, this area could house 276-300 elephants.

© FOUR PAWS / Jasmine Duthie. Project´s site. 
© FOUR PAWS / Jasmine Duthie. Project´s site.

The start up of the project will also involve the employment to the local population, an increase of the tourism, and thus a rise of the local economy, by promoting ecotourism with eco-lodges, the commercialization of eco-paper products from elephant dung, honey production and selling from beehive fencing, training anti-poaching patrols, etc.

The first step of this project is the rescued elephant´s rehabilitation at the Elephants Lake. This place will include (in order of appearance) among others:

· An orphanage: where orphans will be taken and introduced to possible allomothers, that will hopefully form matriarch groups.

· A hospital

· And enclosures that provide permanent homes for those elephants that cannot be released, and temporary homes for those that can be released...

…what?? released???

YES, this is the second step and the most exciting part of the project: the possible release of the elephants into the adjacent North Zar Ma Yi Wildlife Sanctuary where they will no longer “belong” to anyone and will live free back in the wild…isn´t it great? The elephants will not only be released from their chains and taken care of, but also will be released from human´s hands (if possible)!

So, the aim of this project is actually to finally let the elephants be elephants.

The project is still toddling and we are in the most difficult part, but even in the most frustrating and tiring moments, we still keep our hearts focused on the vision of the elephants free from chains, hooks and humans…and that gives us the strength and the passion to keep going 😊

Photo: Ingo Schmidinger 


R. Sukumar,  The Asian Elephant: Ecology and Management, Cambridge University Press, 1992

Chaiyarat et al,  Wild Asian elephant Elephas maximus population in Salakpra Wildlife Sanctuary, Thailand, 2015.