How many primatologists does it take to set up a camera trap?

Hello everyone- Alison here! Sorry we haven’t posted in a while but the internet connection in Bengo is pretty terrible most of the time. Let me quickly explain my research project in case you wonder what I’m doing here (besides eating kue!). Monkeys in South Sulawesi are traveling into agricultural areas and eating foods grown by and for humans. In the world of primatology this behavior is referred to as crop raiding. It is interesting from an ecological perspective because it is part of the monkeys’ foraging strategy. It is interesting from an anthropological perspective because of the conflict that results from this interaction between people and nonhuman primates. One of the goals of my research is to determine when and where monkeys are raiding and one of the methods I am using is the installment of camera traps. The cameras detect movement and take pictures or videos of the monkeys. In addition to monkeys, the cameras have also captured photos of wild pigs, cows, dogs, chickens, nocturnal civets, and curious people!

Camera trapping is not as easy as it may sound. First, it requires many parts: the camera itself, 8 lithium batteries, the memory card, the security box, the lock and its corresponding key, the bracket to attach the camera to a tree, and the screwy part that attaches it to the bracket. I carry the equipment to the site in my backpack, either hiking or riding on the back of a motorcycle.

Choosing an ideal place to put the camera is another task that begins with days of surveying to find the right spot and a farmer willing to participate. Then you have to consider height, which tree to use, weather, lighting, nearby vegetation, presence of domestic animals, where the monkeys are coming from, how the monkeys are traveling, what trees are fruiting when, etc. For example, an unexpected tidbit of knowledge I have gained from the camera trap photos is that cows sleep very little and graze throughout the night!

Installing the camera requires an awesome, machete-wielding field assistant who can climb up a vertical tree trunk, tie himself to a branch, clear vegetation, secure the camera, and endure biting ants and stinging wasps while people on the ground say “To the right a smidge…no, back to the left…maybe a bit lower…”

Checking the memory card can be either the most exciting or boring part of the job. Someone (me!) gets to scrutinize every picture to decide what to delete and what to catalogue. While we often have hundreds of pictures of trees blowing in the wind, we also have videos of a group of monkeys entering a coklat garden and munching on cacao pods right in front of the camera! Of course, this is not good news for the man who owns the garden. We plan to share the information gained from this project with the local farmers, contributing to what is already known about patterns of monkey crop raiding. Attempting to help manage this problem in the future is an important goal of our research.

So how many primatologists does it take to put up a camera trap? Trick question…zero!

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