At the Camera Trap 2017 contest, pictures taken at Land of the Leopard National Park won in three categories. A photo of Queen Borte with a cub, the photo of an Amur tiger titled Rest the Cat's Way, and a video with the feline family of the beautiful Bary got the most votes. We spoke with Gleb Sedash, a researcher at Land of the Leopard, about the skill of installing hidden cameras, the curiosity of wild animals and the benefits that camera traps provide for science.
Question: You install camera traps in the national park. Do you need special skills to get a good picture?
Gleb Sedash: I would not call the installation of camera traps an art. It is rather a fairly complex craft. It appears to be quite simple: you come to a place, attach a camera trap to a tree, and you are done. However, there are lots of subtleties. Each camera trap has specific characteristics and nuances of operation: for example, sensor sensitivity, the width of the sensor coverage, or the width of the resulting shot coverage. If you want to get a beautiful picture, it is important to choose the right background, and to figure out what will get captured in a photo. This is only a part of it. Then, of course, it is important to understand the biology and psychology of an animal that you want to photograph. The way it moves, and what it will do. That is, to get a good shot, you do not just place a camera trap at a random spot, but choose the best location.
Many factors must come together to get good light, to prevent haze from spoiling the picture, and to make sure that the background is beautiful, such as rocks.
In general, this is a craft. Of course, there are a lot of subtleties in working with camera traps.
Question: What are the technical nuances in working with these devices?
Gleb Sedash: There are many different models, and they are being constantly improved. The image gets better, the camera. There are so many different parameters, such as sensitivity. If you don't clean the area properly, if there are some twigs or blades of grass left there, they can fill the camera trap literally in a matter of days as the camera will be activated by the slightest movement.
Question: Do you have a favourite spot with the most beautiful background?
Gleb Sedash: There are several such remarkable places. For example, where a photo with a leopard which participated in the Camera Trap contest, the gorgeous shot named Pride of Land of the Leopard, was taken on Siniy Utyos Hill. This is a fairly tall rocky hill located behind utilities and infrastructure facilities directly on the border with China. The nature is very beautiful there.
This summer, we set up a series of camera traps on another hill, which is called Kraska. There's a huge spectacular rocky cliff. Our employees are going to check the camera traps soon. Let's hope that we will get wonderful videos and interesting shots this time again.
© Land of the Leopard press service
A picture of a Far Eastern leopard taken near Siniy Utyos Hill
Question: Have animals ever broken camera traps?
Gleb Sedash: Things happen. Bears are particularly fascinated by camera traps. They tend to bite through them or tear them apart. They are curious animals. It's not that camera traps make them aggressive. These animals are just very curious.
There was an absolutely amazing incident last year, when we came to check a camera trap. We walked up to it and saw that it was open and that the SD card had come out of it. We thought that poachers checked the camera trap and broke it. When we looked at the photos, we saw that the camera caught several hours of a tiger family's leisure time. The female tiger lay down, while the cubs were running around her. They saw the camera, played with it, opened it, and pulled out the SD card. We got a lot of great pictures.
Question: Why do animals take selfies on camera traps?
Gleb Sedash: Above all, they are curious. Just like humans, wild animals have this trait, and different species have it in varying degrees. Perhaps bears have lots of it. Leopards and tigers also occasionally get interested in a box that is attached to a tree or a stone. They approach it, begin to study it, sniff it, and that's how we get selfies.
Question: How do animals react to a camera shutter click?
Gleb Sedash: It depends a lot on specific models. There are cameras with loud clicks. A human ear would never hear it, but animals have much better hearing. Sometimes, they focus on the camera: approach it, sniff it, look at it, touch it with a paw, and even push it aside sometimes.
Cats break camera traps rarely. Usually they treat them with more respect than bears.
Question: Is there any difference in the behaviour of adult cats and cubs in front of cameras?
Gleb Sedash: Yes, I think so. We didn't conduct any surveys, and there are no specific statistics on that account, but visual observations indicate that the cubs and younger animals are more curious and playful. They take interest in things around them, and they notice cameras more often.
© Land of the Leopard press service
A tiger family in Land of the Leopard
Question: How many camera traps do you have at the national park?
Gleb Sedash: We have about 170 monitoring spots which are stationary objects, to which we attach a couple of camera traps aimed to take a shot of an animal's side for further identification, to count the predators, and to identify their whereabouts.
However, in addition to paired locations, we set up camera traps, for example, if we find a predator working on a kill.
In the autumn, Viktor Storozhuk, our chief specialist for camera trap installation and photo monitoring, and I were on our way to install cameras at a monitoring spot and came across a leopard that was gnawing on a freshly killed roe deer. The leopard saw us and walked away down the slope. We carried along a spare camera trap just for such occasions when we see something interesting, so we installed it with a focus on the roe deer.
We checked on it a few days later, and saw that the leopard returned that same night. The footage shows that it licked the carcass, sniffed it and only then started to drag it away. That is, it was not stressed by our intrusion. It calmly returned to the same spot, grabbed the roe deer in a laid-back manner, and dragged it away.
Question: Do camera traps help in research?
Gleb Sedash: Camera traps provide absolutely tremendous material to researchers. It is hard to imagine anything more convenient for studying animal behaviour in the wild.
For example, when installed in a den with a female and the cubs, one can study parental behaviour, relationships with the cubs, and daily activities of the animals. Camera traps provide broad opportunities for obtaining first-hand information from the wild.
If we study animal behaviour in an enclosure, there are many factors that may affect it, and it can be very different from animal behaviour in the wild. The camera trap makes it possible for us to peep into the life of a wild animal in its natural habitat.