Camera traps while traveling – any experience?
There is nothing quite as exciting as seeing animals directly and taking a photo. But sometimes that is not possible, and camera traps are a possible solution.
Camera traps are great if you are in one place for a long time – either home, or a place near enough to home. But that doesn’t get you shots from far away locales.
I have started to bring camera trap equipment with me on trips. It’s a bit difficult because I already carry tons of photo gear – this adds more. The hit rate over the time that I typically stay at a lodge – say 3 days to a week – is fairly low, especially if you are only setting up one camera trap.
A solitary, or small number, of camera trips may not see anything. You can try using an attractant – Chanel No. 5 or Calvin Klein Obsession perfumes are supposed to attract cats and some other animals too. These have debatable ethics – some people feel you should never do something like this, but researchers use them widely. I think that a non-food attractant like perfume is arguably a different situation than baiting. It’s probably better to place camera traps on trails commonly used by animals, but that requires a lot of local knowledge.
There are two types of camera traps – roughly speaking – the all-in-one camera traps are fairly small, but the quality of the resulting photo is rather row. Or you can put a serious DSLR or mirrorless camera in a housing with off-camera flash and get a much better picture – but you have to carry a lot more gear. And risk loss or damage of a lot more expensive gear. But you can get great photos. I have used equipment from both Camptraptions , by Will Burrard-Lucas Camera Traps – Will Burrard-Lucas (willbl.com) , Camtraptions – Remote & Camera Trap Photography, and from Cognisys https://cognisys-inc.com/scout-camera-trapping.html . I have also built my own specialized gear from pieces on the internet for high speed shots of birds.
Will has shot some amazing photos with his equipment. His work on the Black Leopard is epic – lit like studio portraits but in the wild https://willbl.com/african-black-panther/. I am going to go try for the Black Leopard in Kenya later this year – but I hope to see it directly. But I doubt I will get photos as good as Will did with a camera trap.
Anyway, I am curious what the experiences other people have.
I use SLR camera traps a ton for my conservation photography work on wild cats. Fantastic tools to get hard to get photographs but also a huge pain in the butt. I have traveled with as many as eight set-up but then it gets complicated with customs etc (though i am happy to give advice on how to deal with this).
My advice, and i feel strongly about this, is not to use any kind of bait (wether food, or scent based). You just never know what carnivores you may attract to the spot at the same time. If you find wild fruit, or a carcass or something than in my opinion it’s a different story (though i change my settings in these situations to only take one photo once ever five minutes) and have had good luck getting photos without scaring the predator away.
In the end, it’s mostly about time. Like you said, it’s hard to get photos during a 3-4 day time span. I am generally in the field for a month with my set-ups to get a few photos of the target species.
Camera traps are of course very useful in a number of settings. Not sure how I’d use one in terms of the hobby, though. (My definition of the hobby is seeing animals live in the wild, of course yours may be different and that is fine). Maybe working out what is using a trail before bothering to stay up all night?
However your talk of baits reminded me that here in Australia Kentucky Fried Chicken is a favorite bait with wildlife researchers. A group of researchers were hauled up by a parliamentary committee when a barrel of the stuff appeared on their government credit card. Anyway the reason it is used is that animals love it and it never goes off. Something to think about there.
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I have brought 1-2 Bushnell or Browning trail cameras on past recreational trips to Belize, Paraguay, and Costa Rica and have had pretty good success with them. I typically set them out on game trails, water holes (or puddles during the dry season), vegetable/fruit disposal areas at lodges, under fruiting trees, and at mineral licks, but have deployed them on lesser used roads and footpaths at times (although risk of theft is higher). Success is variable but I have managed to capture jaguars, cougars, tapirs, oncillas, pacas, and other mammals species on them, even with single-night deployments at times. When outside protected areas, I have occasionally baited with fruit and once with a road-killed paca (sadly no carnivores but did get king vultures). Although the quality is not as good as SLR set-ups, it is decent, and I typically set them for video which is nice for capturing behaviour and is typically easier for ID than a burst of still images. I haven’t had one stolen yet (fingers crossed). Be aware that their use is not allowed in all protected areas, so check first for local rules.