Nothing brings people together like a Serbian military lorry – especially when the seats are removed to accommodate huge cement moraines. The APW camera-trapping vehicle of choice, affectionately called “Tammy”, can only be described as a green beast: a glorious and practical green beast, but a beast nonetheless. Standing four feet tall atop its six wheels, and ten feet at its full height, Tammy can withstand even the deepest potholes, which are often more like small chasms here. You would never think to describe such a machine as practical unless you lived in Tanzania.
Our warriors for wildlife were busy all week lifting heavy moraines in and out of Tammy to set up camera traps for monitoring the local wildlife.
This past week, our Warriors for Wildlife were busy setting up camera traps in local korongos (riverbeds) with Dennis Minja, APW’s wildlife monitoring program officer. Don’t let the word “local” fool you – after all, this is not the suburbs. A two-mile trip usually involves navigating through a herd of cattle, multiple winding detours due to the lack of roads, and one or two close calls with the acacia thorn. After five full days of hard work, the team managed to set up 16 cameras at 8 different locations, with two facing cameras per trap.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the procedures involved in camera trapping, you should note that it does not require any actual trapping of animals – just pictures. It does, however, require a lot of planning, a lot of manual labour, and a whole lot of patience. And like life, you always have to account for the fact that things don’t always work out the way you plan.
First of all, the moraines that are used to hold the cameras are probably about as heavy as a baby elephant, and not nearly as cute. In essence, they are metal boxes attached to metal poles, which in turn are embedded rather unceremoniously into a large block of concrete. If that doesn’t sound appealing, try lifting one (or 16) over your shoulders a few times over.
Secondly, we had a bit of a warm spell this week – thank you climate change – and the warriors’ uniforms are made for protection, not for breathability. After a couple of hours in those things under the “jua kali” (harsh sun), fatigue and dehydration come fast. And in Tammy’s open-air rear, with the dry season air virtually vacuuming water out of your body, it is hard to avoid.
Finally, it takes a surprising amount of strategy to choose a camera location within a korongo. To be effective for identification purposes, the camera must capture the maximum surface area of the maximum number of animals passing across the designated area, all the while maintaining view of the opposing camera. The cameras are placed in locations that will allow us to monitor the impacts of our conservation programs over time by giving us estimates of animal densities, individual health, and population statuses. To do that, it’s best to ensure that you’re going to get a good view of most animals passing through in order to be able to identify individuals. This involves clearing any brush that may obstruct the shot, which can be hard in a place where everything has evolved to defend itself. There are many things to keep in mind, from varying animal heights to direction of travel. To test shot quality, each game scout took a turn as the hyena throughout the day, trying to create the best impression in gait and call, with both impressive and hilarious results. Why a hyena, I couldn’t tell you, but perhaps it is due to the healing powers of laughter.
We will be checking the traps in the next few weeks, and hopefully we’ll be able to show you what our friendly neighborhood predators are up to. Keep track of our Facebook page for updates, and remember to keep in mind what it takes to get those photos, because it’s a bit more than a walk in the park!