Conservation news

Researchers in Peru capture some of the Amazon’s rarest and most elusive wildlife on video

Six months ago, 80 arboreal camera traps and 40 more cameras on the ground were deployed by scientists in the Manu Biosphere Reserve in Peru, one of the world’s most biodiverse conservation areas.

The researchers took the cameras down just a few weeks ago, and they provided Mongabay with a sneak peek at the results, which include footage of numerous threatened and endangered species that often go undetected by traditional survey methods.

Species caught on camera in the reserve include the endangered Peruvian woolly monkey, the endangered black-faced spider monkey, a near-threatened, tree-dwelling cat commonly known as the margay, and one of the largest birds of prey in the world, the near-threatened harpy eagle.

Jhon Florez, the head of Manu National Park, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, said in a statement that “The videos of the harpy eagle are simply spectacular. To capture footage of different individuals, across different sites, of such an emblematic bird is special for Manu, and is a great attraction to people who wish to visit Manu and witness its unbelievable wildlife first hand.”

Harpy eagles (Harpia harpyja) can be a full meter tall (3.3 feet) with a wingspan twice that — they’re so big they prey on mammals like monkeys and sloths. Here’s footage to prove it:

Three different individuals were filmed, two adults and one not yet fully mature, all recorded in a native community where hunting still occurs.

“Although these sites are hunted and appear to have fewer large primates, to have these impressive apex predators suggests that there is still a healthy quantity of prey to sustain such a species so high up in the food chain and there must be great connectivity of high quality habitat still within Manu,” Andy Whitworth, research manager at the Crees Foundation (a Peru-based non-profit) and a researcher with Scotland’s University of Glasgow, told Mongabay.

Here’s footage of the Peruvian woolly monkey (Lagothrix cana) and the black-faced spider monkey (Ateles chamek):

And here’s the margay (Leopardus wiedii), which is threatened in part because it’s hunted for its soft fur:

Whitworth said that arboreal camera traps are a valuable new tool because surveying from the ground can be frustrating, especially since as much as 70 percent of biodiversity is thought to exist within the forest canopy.

“There are days on traditional surveys when you glimpse an animal through the dense foliage 30 meters up and then it’s gone,” Whitworth wrote in an email, “with no way to really confirm or verify what it was you saw, unless of course someone else got a good sighting, which isn’t often. Imagine doing this at night, the problem just increases ten-fold.”

Arboreal cameras help to tackle these problems, as they work 24 hours a day and can help researchers detect what Whitworth calls “those cryptic and nocturnal animals that are so difficult to find.”

Given the difficulties of properly surveying wildlife in the forest canopy, researchers have barely begun to understand the complexities of three-dimensional tropical forest ecosystems, Whitworth said.

“Taking the cameras into the trees allows us to make rapid inventories and begin to ask questions about how different land use practices (such as logging or subsistence hunting) influence arboreal biodiversity,” he added. “Ultimately this work will provide us with a much more complete understanding of the human impacts on wildlife in a globally important conservation area, the Manu Biosphere Reserve.”

Whitworth worked with a team of researchers from the Crees Foundation, the University of Glasgow and Peru’s Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco to set the traps.

The team positioned the cameras at various heights throughout four locations in the reserve, from ground level to as high as 41 meters (123 feet), in order to capture species that might be separating their niches vertically as opposed to horizontally.

Whitworth is optimistic about the impact arboreal camera traps will have on conservation efforts in the future.

“We are at the very birth of using these cameras in the trees,” he said, “and in the coming years I believe we will see an explosion in their use to monitor animal populations, behaviours and answer more questions about the effects of habitat disturbance on arboreal rainforest species.”

Here’s more footage of Amazonian cats, including jaguars, plus more primates and some birds.