Capturing jungle activity

Filed Under: EARTH Stories
Date: August 28th, 2017

The Project for Promoting Participatory Biodiversity Conservation (MAPCOBIO Project) is an alliance between the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) of the Ministry of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica (MINAE) and the International Cooperation Agency of Japan (JICA) – heralding a mission of preserving biodiversity as a precondition to continued human existence. As one of its research objectives, the Project seeks to promote the active participation of citizens in the conservation of wild species.

Since 1998, Participatory Environmental Monitoring (MAP) has been expanded to different areas of Costa Rica, thanks to trail cameras (also known as camera traps).

EARTH University was selected to host cameras and, starting in 2015, recording equipment – both capturing interesting surprises within the Guácimo campus’s reserve and throughout the La Flor campus.

Participatory Environmental Monitoring

MAP involves a community in the collection and analysis of environmental information. All interested local people and groups – including private enterprises, institutions and other entities interested in the results of the study – can cooperate in the different stages of monitoring.

What is MAPCOBIO?

SINAC employees selected EARTH University, Tortuguero National Park, selected EARTH University, Tortuguero National Park, Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge and Lomas de Sierpe—Tierra Grande as ideal places for trail cameras in the Tortuguero Conservation Area (ACTo). (Source: SINAC)

SINAC employees selected EARTH University, Tortuguero National Park, selected EARTH University, Tortuguero National Park, Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge and Lomas de Sierpe—Tierra Grande as ideal places for trail cameras in the Tortuguero Conservation Area (ACTo). (Source: SINAC)

“The MAPCOBIO Project seeks to get people participating to familiarize them with the species living on their farm, around their home or in nearby reserves. Because the results of the monitoring are visual, they carry a lot of weight. We also wanted to consider the knowledge gaps that exist at the national level regarding this subject,” said Joaquín Vargas, trail cameras manager for SINAC’s Tortuguero Conservation Area.

To form a work team such as this, the Japanese Agency received a proposal from the Costa Rican government. Once approved, SINAC employees were sent to Japan to be trained in camera trap photography and data analysis.

Upon returning to Costa Rica with their newfound knowledge, one employee was assigned to lead the photography and analysis efforts in each conservation area in Costa Rica – 11 in total.

For Masaki Osawa, JICA’s chief adviser of the MAPCOBIO Project, MAP has two important objectives. The first is, as a country, updating data on biodiversity, having current counts on wild fauna. With this, one can determine the state of biodiversity in the national territory, and governments are able to make necessary conservation decisions with respect to what they possess. The second is growing citizen interest in biodiversity conservation, especially as it pertains to the flora and fauna surrounding one’s community.

MAPCOBIO prepared a manual for the participatory monitoring of land vertebrates through trail cameras in Costa Rica, find it, in Spanish, here.

How do trail cameras work?

There are two types: videography and still photography. The small machines have heat and motion sensors that activate when they sense an animal’s presence by recording a 10-second video or snapping a photograph.

“These cameras are very sensitive,” said Johana Hurtado, a consultant hired by SINAC to analyze the results of the project. “Sometimes they’re activated by the wind or even a falling leaf.”

This sensitivity makes the analysis of information more time-consuming. The shots have to be reviewed one-by-one by human eyes. To date, Hurtado already has reviewed more than 23,000 videos for the MAPCOBIO Project.

To streamline the information inventorying process, easy-to-mark spreadsheets were designed with lists of species that can appear by zone, Additionally, metadata is obtained from the cameras’ memory cards.

Results of the MAPCOBIO Project

According to Johana Hurtado, almost 80% of terrestrial species recorded in the country were inventoried after the first sampling. In addition, six of the 11 conservation areas recorded jaguars and all known Costa Rican felines, including those difficult to find under normal circumstances.

According to Johana Hurtado, almost 80% of terrestrial species recorded in the country were inventoried after the first sampling. In addition, six of the 11 conservation areas recorded jaguars and all known Costa Rican felines, including those difficult to find under normal circumstances.

The findings at EARTH

In the first images taken last year, the most abundant species were the white-nosed coati (Nasua narica), foxes (Didelphis marsupialis), Central American agouti (Dasyprocta punctata), coyotes (Canis latrans), ocelots (Leopardus pardalis), armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus), white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), tayra (Eira barbara), white-headed capuchin (Cebus imitator), raccoon (Procyon lotor) and jaguar (Panthera onca).

Notable images from the trail camera investigation include this video of a jaguar (Panthera onca) with its offspring. 

EARTH expanded the trail camera study by installing four more devices with its ecological reserve. The Escalera del Mono ecological reserve includes 668 protected hectares (1650 acres) – land remediated after rampant deforestation from previous property holders more than 45 years ago. Currently, most of the forest is considered late secondary, although it contains areas with early secondary forest. However, it also can be considered an intervened primary forest for its collection of large tree species.

The University employs Reconyx Hyperfire Infrared HC600 cameras that only capture photographs and use 24 batteries (12 rechargeable) that are swapped out about every 10 days.

Professor Victor Morales, along with EARTH graduate Adolfo Artavia (‘08, Costa Rica), oversaw the placement of the four additional cameras earlier this year.

“The cameras are on a path within the University’s Escalera del Mono reserve because it is known that some mammals pass through areas where people go and they’re also placed around the central hub of campus to see which species are more ‘plastic’ – meaning they do not fear being near humans,” says Morales.

This is the jaguar recorded in 2017. There have been three more jaguar sightings. It is not yet known if all four sightings are of the same specimen.

This is the jaguar recorded in 2017. There have been three more jaguar sightings. It is not yet known if all four sightings are of the same specimen.

The cameras are wiped with alcohol to eliminate any human odor – to prevent animals from running away or getting too close.

Earlier in 2017, there was a jaguar sighting – a very important finding for investigators.

“The jaguar is a difficult species with very complicated habitat requirements, so seeing one around here indicates either the habitat is OK or there are good prey options for the predator. They are an umbrella species, so it’s assumed that if the jaguar is protected, a large number of other animals also are conserved,” Hurtado said.

EARTH was able to establish MAP principles within its campus through the involvement of the entire campus community. Security officials helped determine the best places for the devices thanks to their extensive grounds knowledge, students lent a hand as part of their fieldwork experience, and professors and employees in charge of farms offered their expertise.

“One of our main reasons for conducting more research was to involve students more in wildlife management, to be an agronomists better equipped to characterize flora and fauna in natural forests. This monitoring is neat because, little by little, we have involved enough people as support. In this type of project, one person alone couldn’t achieve nearly as much,” Morales added.

All participants agree on the importance of MAP, both in protected and non-protected areas.

“The important thing is making the reserve known. If we don’t know what we have, it’s difficult to protect it. It’s interesting and important to recognize we share the campus with a lot of wild species, and that they don’t pose any risk to people. It also serves to raise awareness about the need to be cautious when traveling along the nearby highway and in the area in general,” said Artavia, the EARTH graduate collaborating on the project.

The International Cooperation Agency of Japan, on the other hand, expects the information to be disclosed, to ensure the security of the cameras. In their experience, the recordings can lead to governments taking more action on biodiversity conservation.

Vargas’s aim is to obtain more data, distributions of potential habitats and disturbed habitats, where there are and where there are not species and why – and to extend the initiative for 10 years to gather enough information.

“We want people to value what they have and develop a sense of belonging, that they say, ‘My farm serves as a wildlife habitat. It’s along the path of the jaguar,’” Vargas said. “We want this to lead to some sort of benefit, to produce clear information on ways to handle and protect these species. For me, that’s the most important part of this project.”

References used to write this article: