Andean Bears and Cameras

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An agouti paca gets its photo taken by a camera trap in the cloud forest of Cusco province, Peru.

An agouti paca gets it photo taken by a camera trap in the cloud forest of Cusco province, Peru.

When I wrote my last post (Andean Bears: Field Research Continues), I thought I would have returned to southern Peru before now. But I am now on my way back to Peru, where I’ll be through November, for more field research. A key goal of this trip is to begin assessing the mammalian biodiversity of forests on the eastern slope of the Andes. I’ll be working with our primary collaborator in southern Peru, the Andes to Amazon Program of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, and members of the local communities.

A camera trap in the cloud forest of Cusco province, Peru.

A camera trap in the cloud forest of Cusco province, Peru.

We’ll be working in sites near the route of the Interoceanic Highway and farther away from the roadway. My botanical collaborators will collect data on plant diversity from standardized transects, while I’ll deploy a large number of camera “traps,” which in the United States are often called “trail cameras,” nearby. Over time, we’ll be able to use the photos obtained from these cameras to identify which species of mammals are at which sites and to identify the ecological and landscape features that influence where species occur.

Of course, my primary focus is on the factors influencing habitat use by Andean (or spectacled) bears, and these cameras are the first step in evaluating those factors. Some of these factors we’ll consider include the distance from roads, distance from water sources, steepness of the slopes, etc. In the future, we intend to use photos to also estimate the number of bears using the study sites and to identify the sites used most often by bears.

Logistics have been my primary challenge thus far during this trip, and I’m sure they will continue to keep me guessing! I may be asking for bad luck by saying this, but so far, transporting the cameras from the U.S. to Cusco has gone as smoothly as I could have hoped. However, I have to admit that it will be a relief to start placing the cameras in the forest, and it will be interesting to see what animals appear in the photos!

It will also be interesting to see what the main road, the developing Interoceanic Highway, looks like now. When I last saw it in June, there were several sections that appeared vulnerable to erosion during heavy rainfall. We should have another two months of relatively dry weather before the heavy rains start falling, so with luck there won’t be too many derrumbes (landslides) blocking the road yet. If the heavy rains come early, logistics will become an adventure!

Russ Van Horn is a senior researcher with the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.