Conservation news

Camera traps proving to be powerful tool for studying endangered species in remote locations

  • The only known population of the Sira curassow, a large bird in the Cracidae family listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, resides within the Sira Communal Reserve, a chain of isolated and high-elevation outcrops of the Peruvian Andes.
  • Any monitoring technique that can potentially allow closer study of the Sira curassow (Pauxi koepckeae) is of critical importance in order to inform management strategies for the preservation of the species.
  • The authors of a study published earlier this month in the journal Endangered Species Research say that the discovery that camera traps are such an effective tool for detecting the Sira curassow makes it possible to perform a robust assessment of the bird’s distribution and population size for the first time.

The only known population of the Sira curassow, a large bird in the Cracidae family listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, resides within the Sira Communal Reserve, a chain of isolated and high-elevation outcrops of the Peruvian Andes. The species — which has proven quite elusive, to the point that it has only been observed by researchers on a few occasions — is thought to number less than 400 adult individuals.

That means that any monitoring technique that can potentially allow closer study of the Sira curassow (Pauxi koepckeae) is of critical importance in order to inform management strategies for the preservation of the species.

First described in 1971, the bird went undetected for another thirty years before being rediscovered by scientists in 2006. In 2015, a team of Peruvian and British researchers left 21 camera traps on a previously unsurveyed ridge in the Sira Communal Reserve for six months and captured some of the first images of the Sira curassow to be made publicly available.

Following the success of their initial expedition, the team of researchers revisited the study location in 2016, this time with HD cameras in tow. The resulting images and HD video footage of the species were released for the first time in a study the team published in the journal Endangered Species Research earlier this month.

 

Even the researchers themselves were surprised at the success of their second camera trap survey of the Sira curassow’s range. “When we retrieved the footage and started going through the videos we couldn’t believe our eyes,” Ruth Pillco-Huarcaya of Peru’s Universidad Nacional San Antonio, a co-author of the study, said in a statement. “We didn’t have one or two videos of the Sira curassow… we had 19 independent records!”

Pillco-Huarcaya and the other authors of the study say that the discovery that camera traps are such an effective tool for detecting the Sira curassow makes it possible to perform a robust assessment of the bird’s distribution and population size for the first time.

Such an assessment will come none too soon for the critically endangered bird, as the Sira Communal Reserve, the only place in the world the Sira curassow can be found, is facing a variety of different threats.

“Although we expected to find that the Sira Communal Reserve was an untouched remote wilderness, the reality was that it is in danger of being degraded from many directions,” Dr. Andrew Whitworth of the University of Glasgow, a study co-author, said in a statement. “In just six weeks, we observed illegal logging, cocaine production, hunting, gold-mining, and large-scale conversion of its lowland areas into grassland for cattle grazing. The future of the Sira curassow looks bleak.”

Camera trap image of the critically endangered Sira currasow. Image courtesy of Andrew Whitworth.

Whitworth was previously a guest on the Mongabay Newscast and played some recordings of the Sira curassow — you can hear the bird’s calls on the episode that aired on January 10, 2017.

According to the researchers, high-definition images produced by camera traps not only allow for the identification of threats to the Sira Communal Reserve, but can also allow conservationists to identify and detect different individuals or, at the very least, determine how many males and females are present, thus showing any potential differences in sex ratios of the species.

Additionally, HD images are useful for developing awareness of the severely threatened species, they said. The team is hoping that their research helps push the Sira curassow and the Sira Communal Reserve into the international spotlight, and that that in turn encourages more researchers and wildlife enthusiasts to visit the region and improve its protected status.

“Prior to conducting this research we were essentially guessing about the status of the Sira curassow from just a handful of records,” Dr. Christopher Beirne of the University of Exeter, the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “Now we have a tool which we can use to robustly determine the health of this population and identify threats to its future persistence. It is a huge step forward for the future conservation of this species.”

Camera trap image of the critically endangered Sira currasow. Image courtesy of Andrew Whitworth.
A hunter caught by a camera trap in the Sira Communal Reserve. Image courtesy of Andrew Whitworth.

CITATION

FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the author of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page.