Building a modern digital camera trap
LBK ‘clear-view’ camera traps parts assembled
Recently, I wanted to up-grade my camera trap fleet using ‘Pelican’ cases available here in Thailand consisting of the 1010, 1015, 1020, 1030 and 1040 ‘Micro’ series. All of them were clear and I thought I would just coat them with camouflage paint when finished. After studying and collecting cameras, boards and externals, I began building this series of trail cameras around these clear boxes.
Camera trap #1 in the ‘clear view’ series
A Sony S600/Pelican 1015/SSII/2 AAs
Then it hit me. The practical aspect of this build is no need to drill an extra hole for the flash and just let the camera’s flash shoot straight through the box. A lens snorkel is used in every build and so there is no flash-bleed with the clear boxes.
I sourced all the components including Sony cameras depending on which Pelican case was used including a S600, W55 and several W5/7s. The infrared board is the SS1 & SSII plus one Yeticam board. Snorkels were machined from aluminum and a rubber gasket was made from Permatex black silicon sealant. SnapShotSniper ‘HPWAs’(High Performance Wide Angle fresnel lens) are used with one exception (the W5/1040/Yeticam using a standard wide angle lens).
Completed Sony S600/Pelican 1015/SSII/2 AAs
At most of my camera trap sites in Thailand’s protected areas, an aluminum box fitted around the Pelican case to protect it is an absolute must primarily from wild elephants, but also from theft. I use several 3” stainless lag bolts inside the box screwed into the tree (preferably dead) in conjunction with a ‘Python locking cable’ in 5/16” or 3/8” diameters. A 3mm aluminum alloy faceplate drilled for the lens, flash and sensor holes is bolted on to the front using stainless steel ‘power torque’ 10mm machine screws.
Power torque 10mm machine screws and wrench
This system has defeated many inquisitive jumbos who can destroy traps with extreme strength. These aluminum boxes are so firmly attached to the tree they just leave them alone after awhile. A friend of mine recently had three camera trap units with Python locking cables completely ripped off the tree and smashed by wild elephants in Thap Lan National Park in eastern Thailand because he used no lag bolts.
Fortunately for me, there is a custom motorcycle welding shop close to my house that offers ‘Tig’ welding of aluminum and I can have custom dimensions made up to fit any one of the Pelican cases I use. I do all the machining required in my shop at home. Aluminum is much better than steel being more lightweight and rust proof. Also, it is much easier to machine then tough old steel.
Completed camera trap and ‘elephant box’
I cut off the belt loops on the Pelican to make the boxes slightly smaller. I then do a 3D camouflage job on the outside box with black silicone sealant and paint with flat brown, tan and/or green to suit different tree bark colors and patterns. Pre-scouting of camera trap areas and photographing the trees to match-up the bark pattern can be accomplished.
Another aspect of using clear Pelican boxes is I can then use them in wildlife photography and camera trap workshops I occasionally do for Kasetsart University and the private sector in Bangkok. Camera trapping in Thailand with all its exotic animals is amazing and this series of clear boxes are my 4th generation camera traps (1st – generation were film cameras in aluminum boxes, 2nd – digital cameras in aluminum boxes and 3rd – Standard Pelican cases in aluminum boxes).
I hope this might help some people with bear problems in North America and elephant trouble elsewhere with access to ‘tig-welding’ equipment and a machine shop. I have completed the first trap shown here and will post the others to follow. This one is my favorite: A Sony S600/SS2/1015 with a single AA external. This small camera trap is just right for my day pack.
I will be setting this one next month in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, a World Heritage Site situated in western Thailand. I now have ten digital camera traps and three video traps working in this forest and will post photos and videos as soon as I get back out from the field. I am extremely lucky to be able to work here.