Archive for October, 2012
Homebrew video trail camera and commercial back-up:
Early this year, I acquired a Go Pro Hero 2 wanting to build a daytime HD video cam for a certain tree and a long soak at my favorite workplace; Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Western Thailand.
I also had a 2011 Bushnell Trophy Cam ‘Bone Collector’ that takes quite decent IR clips, and would set it up next to the Go Pro. The Bushnell could also be used as a security cam set to video watching over the Go Pro from a hidden position.
Visited by tiger and leopard, a huge tree at a mineral deposit deep in the forest is perfect for these cams. A myriad of other species also come down to this waterhole during the daytime like wild cattle, bears and deer, and is a sure bet for some good videos, specially during the dry season coming up.
The first order of business was what case would I use. While shopping at an outdoor supply company, I found a unique Pelican i1015 meant for an iPhone or iPod with a stereo plug inside the case with an external jack. The Go Pro and SSII board fit with room to spare. A 40.5mm UV filter and HPWA lens are attached to the case with ‘Goop’.
I also wanted an external power source and picked up a 12v SLA #UB1208p battery that fits perfectly in an Otter 1000 case. Being modular would allow different external power supplies to be used. I cut the wire in the i1015 and attached it with ‘Goop’ to the battery case. Alternative externals can be 3 18650 4.2v lithiums.
In the meantime, I sent the camera to fellow Camtrapper.com member ‘TRLcam’ to be hacked, and then visited Gary at Snapshotsniper in Oklahoma where I purchased a few of his excellent SSII boards programmed for the Go Pro.
After consultations with TRL, a 12v to 5v USB adapter was used as the easiest way to connect the 12v battery to the Go Pro.
Everything was put together and I made up an ‘elephant proof’ aluminum box with 8mm ‘power torque’ machine screws designed for the Pelican in the horizontal position, and the Otter in the vertical position. Another box was built for the Bushnell.
3D camo is made up using industrial black silicon sealant and painted with several shades of camouflage in khaki, green and brown using bamboo leaves. Simple but effective.
Security will be four 3/8” X 3” stainless lag bolts and two ‘Python’ 3/8″ locking cables for the Go Pro, and two lags and two 5/16″ cables for the Bushnell.
Both cams will be set in a week or so, and ‘setup’ and videos will be forthcoming.
I would like to thank TRLcam for his help and advice, and to Gary for the boards.
Hope this helps those interested in building a Go Pro. I might make-up an IR unit at a later date to work in parallel with this one but will have to study the components and plans first. They certainly are great little cameras…!
The Go Pro attached to the Snapshotsniper SSII board will not work without the following modification:
A PN2222 resistor and a 10K transistor installed as shown is required to control the Go Pro.
Feared by most but revered by some: More than 217 species in the Kingdom
King cobra hunting by the Phetchaburi River in Kaeng Krachan National Park.
A magnificent serpent some five meters in length slides along the forest floor looking for another reptile to eat. Its movement is swift but steady. Senses are on high alert as a rat snake moves ahead. The big snake rears up and strikes pumping venom into the smaller one. The two wrestle for a short while but soon it is all over as the ‘King’ swallows the lifeless victim headfirst.
Such is the life of the king cobra Ophiophagus hannah, the largest venomous snake in the world. Their main objective in life is to kill other snakes, eat them, and to propagate keeping the species intact. These cobras live primarily in pristine forest far from human interference. They are rarely seen being highly elusive but chance encounters do happen.
The same cobra just before it made a U-turn into the forest.
Over the years, I have bumped into these fearsome snakes several times. My first encounter was while working in Kaeng Krachan National Park along the Phetchaburi River in the Southwest. One day while trekking up-river, my team and I were about to turn back when a large dark snake appeared some 10 meters away.
I quickly brought my camera up and shot a series of images as the creature slid by. After using the flash, it did a U-turn and disappeared into the forest. The team had already retreated leaving me to my own devices. It certainly was a heart-stopper but worth every second of the encounter collecting these photographs.
Reticulated python on the road in Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary
Years later while working around the Chiew Larn reservoir in Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary situated in Surat Thani province down South, I was silently motoring along in my battery powered boat-blind when a king cobra swam in front of the craft.
Immediately recognizing it, I decided to give chase but the long big snake was faster and got to the opposite shoreline first. I then steered the boat diagonally to catch up with it moving along the bank. Its head appeared over a log and it rose up with hood expanded about eight meters away scaring the life out of me.
Siamese cat-snake in Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary
It surely looked mighty big through the lens and I quickly reversed the motor to escape. Being in a boat and constantly moving, all my shots were slightly out of focus. The encounter was brief and disappointing, but I was relived when the highly poisonous reptile slipped away into the dense foliage.
The next day with my team in a bigger boat, another king cobra crossed in front of us. This snake was busy hunting and gave us no heed. We hung back as I fired off a whole bunch of photos through my camera and 500mm long lens. Then the young snake climbed up a tree and eventually disappeared. This particular king cobra had ticks attached to its head. These reptiles are excellent swimmers but also climb very well while hunting, and contrary to popular belief they only stay on the ground.
King cobra hunting in Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary
Thailand has approximately 217 snake species recorded so far (as of early 2012). There are eleven families and many sub-families and genus. A third are highly poisonous, another third mildly venomous and the remaining third are non-poisonous. It is safe to say that snakes – arboreal, aquatic or fossorial (borrowing) can be encountered in every possible habitat, from paddy fields all the way up to montane forest plus urban sprawl, mangroves and the sea.
The same cobra climbing. Note the big tick on its neck.
At the last species count, there are four cobras, 16 vipers, three pythons, three kraits, nine cat snakes, four whip snakes, four rat snakes, 20 keelbacks, 29 sea snakes, 11 blind snakes, 14 water snakes and 13 wolf snakes. There is also a sunbeam snake, a pipe snake, a file snake and four slug snakes. These range from a few centimeters to giants that can exceed 10 meters like a mature reticulated python.
Biologist will argue over snake classification for a long time to come as new species are discovered all the time. Doing research on snakes has been carried out at many universities and institutes in the Kingdom.
Green-bellied pit viper in Kaeng Krachan
Probably some of the best research was undertaken by the late Dr Jarujin Naghitabhata (1950-2008) who was instrumental in establishing the National Science Museum and the Museum of Natural History in Khlong Luang north of Bangkok.
He was a walking dictionary, not only on snakes but all the other reptiles and amphibians plus birds, insects, terrestrial mammals and bats. Jarujin published many books, journals and papers on all the above. He was a kind man and his passing is a great loss for the country.
Yellow bellied pit viper and carpenter ant in Kaeng Krachan
I certainly will miss our friendship as he helped me identify many species for my book projects. However, his work continues today with all his students and protégés at the museum. It is definitely worth the trip out there especially for the kids to see all the amazing things that can be found in the natural world.
It is a fact that most people fear and dislike snakes, and that perpetuates widespread misunderstanding about these cold-blooded creatures. Once the fear of snakes can be overcome, their beauty and grace will become apparent and appreciated.
A mock viper in Doi Inthanon National Park
Snakes rarely attack unless seriously provoked. Tongue flickering of many reptiles is not aggression but simply transmitting signals to their organs of smell. Cobras spread their hood demonstrating an aggressive posture when threatened. Vipers coil-up ready to strike hanging motionless from a tree branch or on the ground. Pythons kill by restricting their prey before devouring headfirst.
Unfortunately, many snakes are caught and eaten. Others are killed outright and left to rot. Snakes are very important creatures for pest control and should be treated with respect. They keep rats and mice in check. Fatal bites do occur but with modern snake antivenins ready availability in hospitals, fatalities are few and far between.
A pit viper on the forest floor in Kaeng Krachan
I know a man who jumped off a boat on Phi Phi Island in the Andaman Sea with just flip-flops and got bitten by a pit viper. After stepping on the little snake, it struck three times injecting its venom into his foot. His was lucky as the Thai Navy flew him by helicopter to a hospital in Phuket and then on to Bangkok where doctors managed to save his foot and life. I also know of a hunter in the Eastern forests who was attacked by a king cobra – he was found three days later black from the torso up – obviously he did not survive.
Occasionally, a large mature python will take a human, mostly is areas adjoining the forest where these monsters live. I know of a tree in the Western Forest Complex that was famous for taking out sitting poachers until the locals finally got wise and stopped. The men just disappeared leaving their guns and stuff on the platform.
A cave-dwelling snake in Sai Yok National Park
Over the years, snakes were captured and exported for the pet trade, and many species went into decline. Fortunately, the Thai government stopped exporting snakes and possibly some species have made a slight comeback. However, illegal operators still manage to break the law shipping reptiles to other Asian countries for local consumption.
All the pythons, the king cobra and a few rat snakes are now protected by law, but most are not including the other cobras and vipers. The future of snakes depend on large-scale public awareness programs for the need to educate the public, spare any found and make sure that illegal wildlife traders are apprehended and put away. This of course will be a tough nut to crack as these people seem to carry-on with impunity, and the markets are ever expanding.
A whip snake in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary
If certain steps are taken by the authorities to counter habitat loss and combat wildlife traders, only then can we say the limbless reptile will continue to survive in good numbers. These amazing creatures certainly need our help.
This series of camera trap images of a young tigress was collected in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary with a Sony W55 homebrew trail cam during May of this year. This particular tiger does not seem bothered by the flash and I have caught her several times prior to this set. Some animals don’t mind flash while others do. I have a tiger on video growling and back-tracking after seeing the red-LEDs on a Bushnell Trophy Cam. I tend to believe it all depends on the individual animal.
Note the wound on her left flank and ticks in her ears.
All images by a Sony S600/S40 camera trap
Wild Asian elephant herd checking out my camera trap
The toughest test of a camera trap in Thailand’s forest is being attacked by the awesome power of a wildlife elephant. These huge beast are very inquisitive and will check-out anything that catches their eye. Camera traps are of special interest and depending on how tight the cam is on the tree, these giants will try to rip it off. The following sequence was captured last month.
Mother elephant and baby
Elephant’s rear end
Female elephant showing tushes
Elephant’s muddy foot
Another ‘mud paw’
They tried in vain to get my cam off but it was so low, they could not get any leverage so they just used their muddy ‘paws’ but failed. However, the lens and sensor were covered in mud after this. The last few shots show what an elephant’s foot looks like…!
This shot of a very old, old banteng bull with a damaged pair of testicles was earlier on the same setup before the elephants. No telling what happened to this poor guy. He was probably evading a predator and scratched em’ on a stick while bolting through the forest. There are big tigers here that go after the old bulls…!
This bull is very old judging from the hang on the dang….!
In 2010 and 2011, I was extremely lucky to visit Kenya in East Africa to photograph the ‘Big Five’ including elephant, white rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard plus many other species in several protected areas including the Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru and Samburu national reserves plus Sweetwaters private reserve in the west and central areas of Kenya.
Mt. Kilomanjaro seen from Amboseli National Park.
This year in May, it was decided with the safari company to go south this time to some new but very famous protected areas including Amboseli and Tsavo (West and East) national parks near Mount Kilomanjaro on the border with Tanzania. I also visited Shimba Hills and Taita wildlife sanctuaries and finally Nairobi National Park near the city of Nairobi.
Mt. Kilomanjaro seen from Tsavo (West) National Park.
The highlight of this trip was catching a black-mane lion in the grasslands of Taita Wildlife Sanctuary on my way back to Nairobi near the end of my trip. A very luck encounter and a dream come true….!
Black-mane lion in Taita close to dusk.
Lazy lion yawning and showing his canines.
Then I was also extremely lucky to catch an elusive black rhino mother and her calf in Nairobi National Park on the last day of the safari. They were reintroduced from South Africa. These massive beasts are tough to see let alone photograph…!
Black rhino mother and calf down in a gully.
Another shot of the pair higher up on the ridge.
In most of the parks in Kenya, elephant and buffalo are common and easy to see and photograph. However, in Tsavo National Park, the world’s largest protected area, both species are red from the earthen clay found here and they stand-out. I spent six days in both sections of Tsavo and it was an amazing adventure.
A bull elephant in Tsavo (West) National Park.
Another red bull in Tsavo (East) National Park.
A Cape buffalo bull in Tsavo (East).
Then, I headed further south to the mist shrouded jungles of Shimba Hills near the southern port city of Mombassa on the coast. Here elephant are gray and buffalo are black as normal with other parts of Kenya.
Young elephant in Shimba Hills. This bull is in musth, a state where male elephants can be very aggressive. Note fluid draining from the temporal gland.
A Cape buffalo bull with an unusual set of horns in mist shrouded Shimba Hills.
Over the course of two weeks, I traveled more than 3,000 kilometers with my good companion, driver and guide Patrick Mjoroge, a Kenyan national with a good heart and loads of experience (more than 25 years) to help me get the best possible opportunities for photographing wildlife. He is an ‘eagle eye’ and saw the wild cat and jackal hanging in a leopard’s tree in Tsavo (East).
Leopard’s prey: A wild cat and a black-backed jackal.
My leopard camera trapped eating the jackal in Tsavo (East).
This was simply an amazing feat which allowed me to camera trap the leopard previously published under ‘A needle in the haystack’ and to make-up the ‘Big Five’ once again. Three times lucky I guess.
Me and Patrick in Taita Wildlife Sanctuary.
I’m now in the process of planning a forth visit to Kenya in early December. It will be another two-week trip down south hopefully to catch some more species that I still do not have like kudu and wild dogs. I’m working on a forth book about wildlife in Asia and Africa as a comparison, and hope to be finished sometime next year. That’s the plan anyway..!
Hope ya’ all will enjoy this post. Another post to follow on all the other species I collected in the two-week period.
Additional photos of the ‘Big Five’:
Lone lioness found in the savannah during mid-day in Nairobi National Park.
Elephants in Amboseli National Park.
Cape buffalo in Amboseli.
Mother elephant and baby in Amboseli. These are the longest tusks I have ever seen on an African elephant. This place is well protected with a mandate of ‘shoot to kill’ any poachers.
An Indochinese tiger with a radio collar around its neck.
A big cat camera trapped in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, Western Thailand using my BFOutdoors’ camera trap with a P43/1040/two ‘C’ cell externals.
There is an on-going scientific survey following some eight tigers in the sanctuary gathering data on their range and behavior. It has been proven in India that tigers with collars do not breed well and hence, I’m not too convinced the program is viable at this location. Also, the data on tiger numbers is not shared with the general scientific community and kept highly secret by a few individuals and an international conservation NGO. It is hoped that one day these collars (which must be very uncomfortable) will be removed to allow these magnificent cats to carry out their lives naturally.