The secret life of mammals captured on film


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The Independent Online

An epic candid camera experiment which spanned three continents and seven countries has captured the unthreatened, enquiring expressions of some of the world’s rarest animals in a collection of 52,000 photographs.

The global camera trap mammal study by international scientists documented 105 species from across Africa, America and Asia, helping to confirm the impact of habitat destruction on the diversity and survival of some animal populations.

African elephants, gorillas and giant anteaters are among the creatures large and small to have been snapped as they go about their lives unaware that infrared cameras were hidden in trees and bushes.

Photographs were gathered during 2008 and 2010 via 420 cameras, 60 of which were set up at each site at a density of one per every two square kilometres for a month duration in each location.

“The results of the study are important in that they confirm what we suspected: habitat destruction is slowly but surely killing our planet’s mammal diversity,” said Dr Jorge Ahumada, the ecologist with the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network at Conservation International who led the study.

“The two key findings are. First, protected areas matter: the bigger the forest they live in, the higher the number and diversity of species, body sizes and diet types. Second, some mammals seem more vulnerable to habitat loss than others: insect-eating mammals such as anteaters, armadillos and some primates, are the first to disappear. While other groups such as herbivores seem to be less sensitive.”

The ongoing project is groundbreaking because it will allow scientists to consistently monitor change in the habitat, health and survival of rare mammals on a global scale to better understand the roles they serve within particular ecosystems.

Since 2010 cameras have been installed in 17 new locations including Panama, Ecuador, Brazil, two sites in Peru, Madagascar, Cameroon, Malaysia and India.

“Without a systematic, global approach to monitoring these animals and making sure the data gets to people making decisions, we are only recording their extinctions, not actually saving them,” Dr Ahumada said.

Tourists and hunters have also been accidentally photographed during the study.

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