Placing a Camera Trap for Beginners in 5 Easy Steps

Image Credit: Pikrepo, CC0 1.0, Image Cropped

If you haven’t yet heard, April is Citizen Science month, so we’re posting a spate of articles on how people can help out and contribute to science without spending months making tiny adjustments at the whims of peer reviewers! This week Sammy Mason (of the UK’s MammalWeb project) and I have put together a checklist for anyone who wants to organise their own camera trap.

For those not in the know, a camera trap is essentially a camera placed out in the wild which records the movement of local animal species whenever they pass by. It’s a fantastic way to document your local wildlife, and it’s a huge help in collating important data about our wildlife. If you’re not convinced, check out the article below.

Bringing Wild Mammals to the Classroom: The MammalWeb Program

So for those of you who would life to set up a camera trap, let’s get stuck into what you have to consider.

1. Where to Place My Camera Trap

There are a few things to consider here. Is there a type of species you’re looking to capture? If so, obviously you’ll need to do a bit of research as to where they generally occur. Apps like iNaturalist can give you an idea of where certain species have been found in your area (then again, maybe you’re looking to document that species in another area). If you’re going to place your camera trap in a location that’s not easily accessible, remember that you’ll have to check the trap from time to time (more on that later).

If you’re just looking to see the wildlife in your local area, there are still a few things you’ll need to consider. Depending on which country you’re in, you may not be able to place a camera trap in a national park or on private land. If you’re in doubt, it’s best to contact the land owner or a park ranger to get confirmation.

Security is also something you’ll have to consider. Python locks and security boxes can help deter people from stealing a camera, but not all the time. Try to place your camera as far off paths as you can. MammalWeb have had many camera traps damaged or stolen, probably as a result of poachers destroying them because they don’t want footage of themselves showing up.

For more tips on camera placement, check out the link below:

MammalWeb’s Tips for Good Camera Trap Placement

2. Which Camera Trap Should I Buy?

Recent leaps in technology mean that you can now get fairly reliable camera traps for a decent price. However, as with any technology, the more you pay, the better a camera you’re likely to get. We’ve listed some price ranges below. Remember, in addition to the cameras themselves, you’ll need a good memory card and some replacement batteries.

  • Low end ($60 – $100 USD) – You can purchase some pretty cheap cameras from Amazon nowadays. MammalWeb don’t use these lower end cameras, however some of their volunteers do with great results. They are good as a first camera if you are not sure camera trapping is for you, but they are far more unreliable, will likely not last as long as more expensive cameras, and the photo quality is usually a lot worse. MammalWeb don’t have direct experience with this price range, but hopefully by looking at reviews you can see which ones to choose/avoid.
  • Mid range ($150 – $250) – Camera traps in this range are what MammalWeb use mostly. They’re very long-lasting (MW have had some for 5+ years now) and produce great quality footage. NatureSpy (who also have lots of cool camera trap projects going on) is a great site to both research and buy camera traps through. For anyone looking to purchase one, we recommend checking them out at this link. MammalWeb also has this short guide which has some of the camera traps that they have trialled over the years:
  • High end ($400+) – The Reconyx camera traps sit at the top end of the price range, in fact way above anything else. They are superb pieces of kit, capturing amazing quality footage and have the best trigger speeds so they don’t miss a thing. They’re also very durable and long lasting. Mostly, they are used for research purposes where you need to be certain you aren’t missing anything, and perhaps where you need fine quality images, such as if you were trying to individually identify animals.

3. How Do I Set My Camera Trap Up?

You’re better off finding somewhere where the camera doesn’t stick out too much. This isn’t to disguise it from the animals, it’s more to disguise it from other people. Make sure it’s strapped on tight and is unlikely to easily be dislodged by passing animals or adverse weather conditions.

4. How Often Should I Check My Camera Trap?

This often depends on the weather. Batteries are likely to run down much more quickly in winter, so you may need to replace them more often if you keep the trap out when the weather gets cold. Winter can be an issue, if the temperature drops below -20 degrees your camera may struggle, though some of the more high-end ones will still be fine.

After first placing your camera trap we recommend checking it after a week, so you can do an early troubleshoot if necessary. If you have nothing recorded after a week, you could consider moving the trap. Additionally, the camera may be being activated by vegetation blowing in the wind, which may be a problem. After you’re happy with your placement, check every two to three weeks.

5. I’ve Got Some Amazing Images! What Should I Do Now?

Share them! Monitoring is really key to good conservation and wildlife management, as if we don’t monitor well enough (i.e. over large spatial and temporal scales) then we won’t know when wildlife populations are decreasing or increasing too rapidly. If we don’t know that then we risk losing species before we even knew there is a problem. By uploading your data to projects like MammalWeb you are helping with this problem as the more data we can get, the better we can help conserve species in the future.

Most projects, including MammalWeb, work with other recording centres and organisations to make sure all available data is gathered and stored in a way that will maximise the benefits we can get out of it. MammalWeb also work directly with charities and organisations that utilize the data to carry out the most efficient and worthwhile conservation projects. So, by uploading your data you really are maximizing the benefits of that data you hold. Furthermore, projects like MammalWeb do a lot of engagement work with children and adults of all ages. MammalWeb couldn’t do that work without your contributions. So uploading your data is also helping to inspire and educate people.

If you have any more questions, feel free to get in touch with Sammy Mason at samantha.s.mason@durham.ac.uk.

Sam Perrin is a freshwater ecologist currently completing his PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who is being annoyingly productive during quarantine and wonders why it took him a global pandemic to get his PhD back on track. You can read more about his research on his Ecology for the Masses profile here, and follow him on Twitter here.

 

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